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IOWA CITY — When the University of Iowa celebrates its 175th anniversary next month, it plans to highlight three areas in which faculty have made transformational differences across the state, nation and world: writing, space discovery and medicine.
Representing each of those fields with Feb. 27 lectures at Hancher Auditorium are:
- Physics and astronomy professor Craig Kletzing, who in 2019 landed the single-largest research award in UI history, amounting to $115 million from NASA;
- International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill, whose writing has been translated into nearly 40 languages and who has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to more than 50 countries;
- UI Health Care Executive Dean Patricia Winokur, who has played a key role in testing COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics and communicating information about the pandemic both in Iowa and nationally.
“Craig Kletzing, Christopher Merrill, and Patricia Winokur embody the excellence that the University of Iowa has become recognized for, nationally and internationally,” UI President Barbara Wilson said. “These three distinguished faculty members showcase the breadth of knowledge that Iowa has to offer, and they reinforce our university’s relentless pursuit of research and discovery and its commitment to educating Iowa students.”
But Wilson — who started as Iowa’s 22nd president over last summer — isn’t content to rest on the campus’ laurels.
With the knowledge that recruiting elite faculty is becoming increasingly competitive, the UI last week unveiled a new program aimed at attracting tenured faculty “who can have a transformational impact on the university.”
Resources for hiring
The program will provide up to $1.5 million per faculty hire to help UI colleges attract “outstanding faculty in key areas of innovation and interdisciplinary strength.” Most of the money will support the faculty member’s research and teaching.
“Separate resources will provide some salary support, with the home college expected to also provide support,” UI Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel told The Gazette.
The program will enable up to three recruits per year for three years, with expectations the first new hires will start in the 2024 budget year, which begins July 1, 2023. The process, though, will launch this spring — when “areas of excellence will be identified,” according to Kregel.
“Colleges then will be allowed to recruit into those areas with input from the president and provost,” he said.
To the question of how UI will fund the program — as campus revenue dipped in the last budget year from lower tuition income and state appropriation cuts — Kregel said, “Resources have been identified to support this initiative, including endowed positions that are centrally controlled and can be used for this purpose.”
He confirmed, though, that the UI will not use any revenue from its public-private utilities partnership, which includes an educational endowment find, to support the hiring initiative.
A small committee involving the president and provost will review hiring proposals. Anticipated candidate qualifications include:
- Expertise in areas of “high strategic impact”;
- Established national or international reputation;
- Record of cutting-edge scholarship or creative work;
- Record of interdisciplinary or innovative collaboration;
- Potential to enhance diversity;
- Production of external funding;
- And expertise in areas of high student demand and interest.
Compelling the program, according to Kregel, is UI’s research status in the Association of American Universities and its “rich history of excellence in academic research and instruction.”
“This program is focused on recruiting talented and collaborative faculty who will contribute to the continued strategic growth of existing and emerging areas of scholarship and teaching,” Kregel said.
Administrators for years have hammered the message that UI’s ability to compete for the best and brightest faculty is critical to the success of students and the advancement of research.
But total tenured faculty numbers have been dropping across all three Iowa Board of Regents public campuses in recent years — including at the UI, which had 1,172 tenured faculty in 2018-19 and 1,138 in 2020-21, according to the most recent report.
Meanwhile, non-tenure-track faculty now are the majority at the UI — accounting for 56 percent of all UI faculty last year.
Other campus models
With competition increasing, other Big Ten campuses have had or currently have similar hiring programs as the one the UI is launching, according to Kregel. That includes Purdue and Ohio State universities and the University of Illinois — Wilson’s former system before arriving at Iowa.
Some aspects of the new Iowa program were pulled from the Illinois initiative and “modified” to the UI campus, Kregel said.
“She was very involved in Illinois’ program,” he said of Wilson.
According to a description of the “University of Illinois System Distinguished Faculty Recruitment Program,” it provided non-recurring matching funds from the president’s office to attract 10 to 15 highly distinguished “superstar faculty each year across the system.” The universities were expected to match the presidential funds for each hire — which anticipated a total system and university commitment of $60 million over three years.
Deciders in the Illinois program included the president, executive vice president and vice president for economic development and innovation — tasked with reviewing proposals and distributing resources across the campuses.
Wilson, before starting at the UI served as the executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs for the University of Illinois System.
“Some of our earliest examples show that when you bring in someone with tenure, who's already very well-known in his or her field, that that individual can become a magnet, attracting people across the campus and even from other universities, bringing research grants in, bringing collaborative activities together,” Wilson said in recorded comments.
“They become a hub of activity and excitement, and that's the kind of hire we're looking for.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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