Investing in faculty excellence

I was delighted to receive the news Tuesday that two members of our faculty are receiving MacArthur “genius grants.” Lynda Barry in the Department of Art and Andrea Dutton in the Department of Geoscience are the recipients of these 2019 MacArthur Fellowships, which come with much prestige and a $625,000 stipend.

Having two MacArthur recipients in one year is yet another testament to the quality of our faculty here at UW-Madison. I’m confident there are some future winners of this grant, not to mention quite a few actual geniuses on our faculty as well.

It is the job of those of us in leadership at UW to support our faculty at the highest level possible and to promote their work, as much of the reputation of the university hinges on the reputation of the faculty.

At a recent welcome for our academic leaders, I was pleased to announce that UW–Madison now has 506 named chairs or professorships, ranking us number 2 in the Big Ten. The news was met with a round of applause, and rightfully so – named chairs enhance our ability to attract and retain the excellent faculty that help make us a world-class university.

I’d like to take a moment to share with you some more positive news about our faculty hiring and retention efforts.

This year, we welcome the largest new-faculty class we’ve hired in at least 15 years – 147 new faculty members have joined us. I had the opportunity to meet many of them at our New Faculty Luncheon, and like all of our faculty, they’re an impressive group. I look forward to seeing all the great things they will do here.

And I have good news to report about our recent faculty retention efforts. There were 46 retention cases reported for 2018-19, continuing our downward trend. There were 64 last year, 92 in 2017, and 144 in 2016.

I’d also like to tell you about several ongoing investments we’re making to continue to enhance faculty excellence, focusing on three areas: compensation, the Cluster Hire Program, and targets of opportunity, or TOP.

As a major research university, we compete in an international marketplace to attract and maintain top talent. The competition is fierce, and offering competitive salaries is critical to bringing the best faculty to UW–Madison and keeping them here. With that in mind, since 2015 we’ve invested more than $59 million in merit and equity-based raises and one-time bonuses for faculty and staff. And this year, as before, we’re allocating compensation funds to all departments for merit, market-based equity increases and one-time bonuses for faculty and staff – $3.5 million for faculty, $4 million for staff, and $4 million for bonuses.

These efforts over the last four years have raised us from 12th in our group of 12 official AAU salary peers to 11th. It’s good to no longer be at the very bottom, but it’s pretty hard to fire up a crowd to chant, “We’re number 11!” We can do better.

So this year we’re trying to make noticeable gains in faculty salaries. We know we have some highly productive faculty in highly ranked departments whose departmental salaries are substantially below the peer median.

In June, we announced an additional $9 million for targeted faculty salary increases. I asked deans and directors to submit distribution plans to help us allocate that funding in the best way and received very thoughtful proposals. These additional dollars will significantly boost our ability to retain faculty. It will take a bit of time for results to show up, but watch – we’re not going to be number 11 for long.

Our Cluster Hire Program is another way we’re enhancing faculty excellence. I know many of you are familiar with it. It’s a way to be highly strategic about hiring in areas of research where a group hire of new faculty can really help us move forward. In the first 15 months of the program, we’ve approved hiring for 15 new research clusters, and we have another competitive round coming up soon. And hiring has begun. We’ve authorized 30 hires, have 13 accepted offers, and a number of others are pending. Among other benefits, the Cluster Hire Program is providing new research tracks and collaborative opportunities for our faculty, encouraging and fostering the kind of cooperation that will burnish our standing as a world-class research institution.

Finally, our TOP program – targets of opportunity – is giving departments new tools to go after the people they’d like to recruit from groups that are underrepresented in their discipline. The goal is to increase the diversity of our faculty – not just racial diversity, but diversity of identity, culture, background, experience, status, ability, and opinion. When a faculty member is hired through this program, central administration will pay 100% of the salary, up to $90,000, for five years (for tenured hires) or six years (for assistant professors). After that, the school or college picks up half the salary.

In the first year of the TOP program, we’ve authorized 42 hires and had 15 accepted offers in six of our schools, colleges, and research centers. Seven more hires are pending. Through this program, we’re bringing in outstanding people and building a stronger bridge to tenure for faculty from underrepresented groups. Over time, TOP hiring will further strengthen the faculty. (I should note that Dutton, one of our two MacArthur recipients that I noted at the beginning of this blog, was hired this year through the TOP program.)

Talented, dedicated faculty and staff are any university’s most valuable assets. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in our efforts to attract and maintain the very best. I appreciate the work of our faculty – in teaching, in research, and in helping run the organization – every day.