Development of the Strategic Faculty Hires Initiative

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-by John A. Koropchak, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean

There has been much discussion on campus about the genesis and intent of the "strategic faculty hires initiative" recently announced, and I hope that I can clarify the various issues here.

The idea for strategic hires at SIUC emerged in discussions with then-Interim Provost Kyle Perkins in mid-summer 2002. At that point, the tuition increases proposed by Chancellor Walter Wendler had been approved and discussions were beginning about allocating the new tuition dollars generated in FY04 (the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2003, and ends June 30, 2004). Note that the distribution of FY03 new tuition dollars was outlined in detail by the Chancellor. During the discussions about raising tuition, as well as the ongoing "Southern at 150" planning process, Chancellor Wendler and others repeatedly stressed the importance of the faculty as the foundation of the University, the need to increase tenured/tenure-track faculty, and the need to lower the faculty-to-student ratio. At the Board of Trustees Budget Retreat, Chancellor Wendler named faculty as his top priority.

In this context, Interim Provost Perkins and I developed a proposal for Chancellor Wendler to use $2 million of the new tuition revenue toward new faculty hires, as a first step in a multi-year process of enhancement of faculty lines across the campus. We proposed a strategic process with these as our goals and priorities:

  • Make good programs better (e.g., to raise NRC rankings)
  • Leverage existing strengths
  • Posture success in disciplinary/interdisciplinary areas showing great potential for growth
  • Enhance core doctoral programs lacking critical mass
  • Address concerns about core programs raised in the program review process

Furthermore, we suggested that while the largest number of hires could be made at the junior faculty level, a significant number should be made at senior levels to further increase the visibility and vitality of the programs ultimately selected to receive these hires.

This was our proposal to Chancellor Wendler, and he approved that plan at the end of August 2002. At that point, one of our major concerns was time. In most fields, "prime recruiting season" is in the fall, with advertisements ideally appearing in September or October. Before the ads appear, of course, the ideas for the positions must be developed, and the documents prepared by departments in order to seek approval for a search. Approved ads must then be submitted to journals, typically with a month or more of lead time before appearance, with perhaps six or more weeks allowed for candidates to apply before the deadline. Add it all up, and this process would probably take at least three months in the best cases. With only four months left in the year, we had to move FAST if we were going to begin searches this fall.

Subsequently, we requested input from the deans on how they would prioritize the hires in their colleges. This was first requested with a very short turnaround time: due in two days, on August 30. We then extended the deadline two weeks, to September 13, in order to give the deans more time to reflect on their prioritization and seek input from their chairs, directors, and faculty as appropriate, and incorporate thinking regarding the draft "Southern at 150" report that became available in early September. Collectively, the deans proposed more than 200 faculty positions, which clearly could not all be funded with $2 million.

Interim Provost Perkins and I proposed, and Chancellor Wendler approved, 28 positions over 16 departments in 8 colleges. All but a few of these positions were those listed by the deans as their top priorities. Notification of the approved hires was sent to the deans on September 25, 2002.

It is important to note that these "strategic hires" are not the only faculty searches being conducted on campus this year. It is my understanding that over 20 positions had been given administrative approval for advertising prior to approval of the strategic hires proposal. Funds for those positions reside in the college budgets and come from sources including: (a) the second installment of RAMP funding to the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, (b) the second installment of RAMP funding to the College of Mass Communications and Media Arts, and (c) funds released from normal attrition from colleges.

At the same time, these are tough financial times for SIUC, for the State of Illinois, and for universities and states throughout the country. This year and the next have every earmark of being the worst in perhaps half a century. Amazingly, the budget situation in Illinois is not as bad as it is in most other states. The Chancellor of North Carolina State indicated that they are facing a 20-25% budget cut this year! Our neighbor state of Missouri publicly proposed elimination of one of the state campuses as a solution to their budget woes. The list goes on and on (Virginia, Iowa, etc.). Even private institutions like Stanford, which rely heavily on income from endowments dependent on income from sources such as the stock market, have announced hiring freezes. The strategic faculty hires initiative not only gives us a valuable opportunity to attract outstanding candidates, but also may give us a unique chance to hire outstanding faculty away from institutions in states where things are much worse.

SIUC has had "good" hiring years and it has had "bad" hiring years. For example, a state budget rescission in FY92 limited hiring to 15 across campus that year. In addition to hires resulting from preexisting and other searches, SIUC still has the remarkable opportunity to use $2 million of "new money" to make 28 junior and senior hires, perhaps even including senior faculty of the caliber of our outstanding scholar and teacher award winners. An unpleasant but nonetheless very real alternative is that we might not have been able to hire any.

I would be happy to address questions that may remain in this regard. Please feel free to contact me at or 3-4551.

* Answers to frequently asked questions about the strategic faculty hires initiative