Professors in the marketplace
by Nicke Riddle


      It's probably Horace's fault. Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet rhapsodized about "searching after truth in the groves of Academe." Today, some people still have a vague impression of professors tripping through a metaphorical wooded glade, plucking the fruits of learning from a dusky bough. What's wrong with this picture? Well, just about everything. For starters, it leaves out the crucial work of a university's administration, without which there would be no grove.

      "What we do isn't ivory tower stuff," says David Zaret, executive associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Attracting the best faculty - and keeping them - is a real-world task and then some. Competition for the top academics is getting more fierce. For example, in the academic year 1995-96, there were 20 offers made to College faculty from other institutions. In 2000-2001, there were 37.

      Why the jump? Kumble R. Subbaswamy, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, believes that institutional rankings, which are now given great prominence in the media, have led to universities and colleges seeking to climb a few notches on the scale. Thus, says Subbaswamy, "successful faculty at top-tier institutions are targets of opportunity."

      Elsewhere in the country, administrators have their own theories to account for the increase in competition. "Compared to 30 years ago," says Jesse Delia, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "there's a smaller fraction of the best intellectual talent devoting their careers to the life of the mind. And there are very many more institutions than there used to be."

      "It goes back to the '60s," says Risa Palm, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina, "when a large number of new faculty were hired." That generation is reaching retirement. Consequently, universities are recruiting younger faculty in order to maintain quality of teaching and research. "And we're all doing this at the same time," Palm points out.

      But what of those 37 offers to IU faculty? "In two-thirds of the cases, the College negotiated to retain that faculty member," says Zaret. In one-third of them, the College didn't. Budgetary constraints called for some tough choices, even after the substantial help that the College receives from the Research and University Graduate School and the Office of the President. Arts, science, and social science programs each have a distinct set of problems, but are all in the same boat when it comes to the competition for faculty. A closer look at the whys and wherefores of three recent arrivals in the College yields some insights into the issues with which universities and their faculties have to contend.

   For 27 years, Michael Wade was on the faculty of the Department of Ecology and Evolution in the University of Chicago's Division of Biological Sciences. In summer 1998, he accepted an offer from IU and is now professor of biology in the College.

   "I was trained to be loyal to a university," says Wade. Nevertheless, dissatisfaction drove him to a career counselor. The counselor asked Wade to give examples of universities he liked. He mentioned
Professor Michael Wade, Department of Biology, and graduate student Jake Moorad discuss the week's research schedule.
Professor Michael Wade, Department of Biology, and graduate student Jake Moorad discuss the week's research schedule.
Indiana. "IU graduates regularly came through our course at Chicago," he says. "They all had high opinions of the biology department at IU and always spoke glowingly of their mentors." Shortly after that, IU advertised for faculty positions in biology.

      "My dissatisfaction with Chicago was a big factor," he recalls. Once the prospect of a move to Bloomington was in the air, he couldn't help but make other comparisons. "We were on the south side of Chicago. After dealing with urban life, Bloomington seemed extremely attractive."

      The University of Chicago made a counteroffer that included a higher salary, but Wade and his family had made up their minds. He was far from the first to leave: In the seven years before his move to IU, Chicago's Division of Biological Sciences had a 42 percent turnover of faculty.

      Frederika Kaestle, professor of genetic anthropology, spent two years as an assistant professor at Yale before coming to IU in fall 2001. When she saw the IU position advertised, she had no plans to apply, "but then IU asked me to," she says.

Professor Frederika Kaestle, Department of Anthropology, is not looking through a phone book. She is searching a scientific catalog for glassware to set up her research laboratory in Myers Hall.
Professor Frederika Kaestle, Department of Anthropology, is not looking through a
phone book. She is searching a scientific catalog for glassware to set up her research laboratory in Myers Hall.
    Kaestle wasn't unhappy at Yale, but several considerations made the idea of a position at IU appealing. First, there was the likelihood of tenure. "At Yale, it's very low," she says. "They warn you about that going in. " At Indiana University, the tenure process is more balanced. In addition, Kaestle's position qualifies her as a Fellow of the Indiana Molecular Biology Institute at IU. This has important advantages for her work, which draws on several sub-fields of anthropology. "I get to discuss things with my colleagues here in anthropology and then use my lab at the institute, where I get to interact with biologists."
      Location, location, location. Again, the balance tipped toward Indiana. "I grew up in Wisconsin," Kaestle explains. "Bloomington is a lot more like Madison than New Haven is. It's safer and cheaper. It's also closer to the people I collaborate with in Michigan and Wisconsin."

      Before Kaestle applied, she had two further questions. "There are four sub-fields in anthropology," says Kaestle, "and they don't always see eye to eye." Her research uses data from all of them, so she needed assurance that those sub-fields "got along" at IU. Last, she wanted to know about the laboratory: "If there was no start-up money in place to set up the lab, there was no point in even applying." The answer to both questions was, "Yes."

      Daniel James, holder of the Mendel Chair in Latin American History, came to IU from Duke University in 1999 - but not before a good deal of soul-searching. "The IU Search Committee contacted me," he says. "The chair had just been endowed. I applied and interviewed, and IU made an offer." Then Duke made a counteroffer.

    "It's like a bazaar," says James. "Both sides want written proof of what the other is offering, and then they respond with another counteroffer." Duke, a private university, has a highly attractive policy of tuition support for children of faculty, valid for any school in the country. IU, as a public university, is unable to offer such a package. And there was a further complication: the spousal issue. "My wife worked at Duke too," says James. "I know of cases where negotiation has broken down over that kind of thing." In their case, it was resolved fairly quickly, but the process was still stressful. "You're breaking up relationships with colleagues, leaving a community, uprooting your family," says James. "We were at Duke for 10 years."
Daniel James, the Mendel Chair in Latin American History, reflects on his move to Indiana University.
Daniel James, the Mendel Chair in Latin American History, reflects on his move to Indiana University.
      So what does an institution need in order to compete in the academic bazaar? "Top programs attract top professors," says David Zaret. "New PhDs want to go where the action is." Starting salaries are generally not a problem for new faculty. Of far greater importance is the reputation of the department.

      A major consideration, particularly for the bench sciences, is "start-up" support - laboratory space, equipment, and so on. Even diverse fields like speech therapy, economics, and linguistics often require equipment for teaching and research projects. And we're not talking about small change. "We have a number of million-dollar chairs," says Richard Lariviere, dean of liberal arts at the University of Texas, "and the cost of start-up can sometimes run to more than the cost of the chair."

      Then there's a reduction of the teaching load. Lariviere tries to accommodate such requests, but only up to a point. "The relation between teaching and research is so intimate that to reduce teaching hours too much is self-defeating." Says Risa Palm at North Carolina, "We would never eliminate undergraduate teaching from a faculty portfolio as part of an offer." That doesn't mean that there's no wiggle room. Jesse Delia voices the strategy shared by most of his peers: flexibility. Academic leave and sabbaticals can be arranged for specific research projects, for instance. "But what we try to do more," continues Delia, "is set up fellowships to attract students to a faculty member's area, or organize a conference that addresses their field of research."

      For recruitment of minority faculty, Delia advocates measures at the program level. "At UIUC, we've created ethnic studies programs and integrated them with other courses throughout the university," he says. "Our African-American, Asian-American, and Latino research programs have served as a magnet for minority faculty focusing on minority issues." He also sees the building of faculty clusters as important: "There should be a community of minority faculty, not just isolated individuals."

      When it comes to retention, salary becomes more important. "It's demoralizing for dedicated faculty members to be rewarded with paltry salary increases," says Zaret. At Wisconsin's College of Letters and Science several years ago, the administration surveyed the outside offers their faculty had received. "Of those we lost," says Phil Certain, dean of the College, "the offers had an average 50 percent increase in salary. Of those we kept, there was an average 30 percent increase." There's no doubt that money plays an important role in retention. But general contentment, material or otherwise, is always a good defense against outside recruitment. "If your faculty are engaged and happy to be there," says Risa Palm, "then they'll resist or even ignore offers." And lest we still entertain images of entire schools abandoned by fickle professors, Fitzpatrick speaks for her colleagues and peers when she says, "We still retain most faculty. People who make their careers in public universities are usually very dedicated."

      While administrators "duke it out" for the best scholars, those scholars are engaged in contests of their own: for grants, for publication, for how best to spend their professional time. "The demands on faculty now are enormously high," says Delia. "They have to teach well, be engaged with multiple groups, attract money, publish "

      "You have to publish," says Michael Wade, "or your institution will see no reason to raise your salary. You have to create new knowledge." The "publish or perish" syndrome is a long-established part of academic life. But Daniel James believes it's getting harder for younger faculty to publish, after severe cutbacks in library and institutional buying that have forced academic presses to tighten their belts. "Some of my junior colleagues send manuscripts out," he says, "and they get letters back saying, 'Before we even read this, can you come up with a subsidy to offset printing costs?'"

      Not every case is the same, however. Over in the anthropology department at the College, Frederika Kaestle describes her work on ancient DNA. "It's a sexy field right now, so I've never had problems getting published," she says. Her research crosses disciplines and is of interest to journals of genetics, anthropology, biology, and sociology. "But finding the time to write, to read journals, and to write grants is harder."

      Finding the students is also a bigger priority than it used to be. "Ten years ago, if I taught in a nationally ranked history department and I wanted to teach a course that only 10 students enrolled in, I taught it," says James. "But now, I have to consider whether that's viable. If you want more to enroll, you need to teach classes that greater numbers of students want to take."

      Henry Remak, professor emeritus of comparative literature, Germanic studies, and West European studies, has been on the IU faculty since 1946. He is both amused and alarmed by the competitive edge that younger faculty are now forced to adopt. "Go to the Department of Comparative Literature in Ballantine Hall," he says, "and you'll find all the course outlines laid out on a big table. A lot of the covers have a very 'come-hither' appearance - they give you a little bit of spice to grab your attention." It is not that the courses are unsound, but, argues Remak, "That's an advertising technique. Twenty years ago, it would never have been thought of."

      Now that we've torn down the image of academia as a grove-like idyll, we run the risk of swinging too far in the other direction and wielding jungle metaphors. But if a university makes its faculty feel too beleaguered and unsettled by these pressures, it's far more likely to lose that faculty. Academics, like anyone else, need to feel at home. Michael Wade is a case in point.

      "Some of the graduate students at the University of Chicago referred to the faculty as the 'sterile caste' because they were all single or divorced," he says. "When my wife and I attended academic functions there, it was no kids allowed and very serious. At IU, everyone has families. Kids are welcome at functions, and people have interests outside of their work. And you know something else? There are diaper-changing stations in the first-floor men's rooms in Jordan Hall. I don't think there's one anywhere on the Chicago campus."

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