Bearing the market
The faculty-recruitment strategy the Board discusses Friday might make the University’s internal recruitment processes more efficient — but it won’t help us seal deals
Most members of the University’s Board of Visitors live in Virginia. Given that these people are appointed by the Virginia governor to serve Virginia’s flagship school, this should come as no surprise. But of the Board’s 17 members (excluding fourth-year College student Blake Blaze, the non-voting student member), only one — Hunter Craig — makes his home in Charlottesville.
This week, Board members will make their way from Richmond, McLean and Herndon, from Houston, Baltimore and New York, for two days of meetings. Most will occur in the Rotunda. For its first regular meeting of the academic year, the University’s governing body faces a full docket. In talks Thursday and Friday, the Board will discuss a range of important items — from Rotunda renovations to a six-year plan the University must submit to the state.
Perhaps the most important discussions the Board has on its agenda revolve around the University’s strategic plan, which is an attempt to set priorities for the school and chart the institution’s future. In its strategic-planning discussion Friday, the Board will mull over three key strategies: one that aims to enhance research infrastructure, another that attempts to increase research and entrepreneurship opportunities for students, and a third that focuses on boosting faculty recruitment. The third proposed strategy is worth discussing further.
The University has called its proposed faculty-recruitment strategy “continuous active recruiting.” Continuous active recruiting has a few aims. First, it encourages the people responsible for recruitment to cultivate long-term relationships with scholars they might wish to hire. Second, it integrates recruitment efforts across different departments. Finally, it ensures that recruitment efforts are “continuous,” as the name suggests, rather than sporadic. This strategy seeks to solve some real deficiencies in how the University goes about recruiting faculty. But the University’s shortcomings when it comes to faculty recruitment (and retention) do not stem primarily from a failure of strategy. These problems arise from a failure to pay top faculty members market-rate wages. Until the University can compensate faculty more generously, this element of the strategic plan will be only a partial solution.
The strategy seeks to correct a tendency for academic departments to conduct decentralized faculty hiring efforts. A decentralized recruitment model has yielded varying results. Some departments are better at luring faculty than others. And having departments recruit in isolation leads to missed opportunities for potential faculty members who would be able to contribute to multiple departments. Hiring faculty members who have the potential to do cross-disciplinary work — for example, an astronomer who could work with the University’s physicists, or a literary theorist who could partner with the University’s philosophers — enables research opportunities that bridge disciplinary divides, an aim that is of interest to many scholars. Hiring such people might also save money, if faculty in one department can cover teaching assignments and other projects in related departments.
The strategy also seeks to solve the problem of sporadic recruitment. Given the importance of having strong faculty members who represent a range of scholarly interests, departments should constantly be attentive to potential hires. It is better to plan ahead than flail desperately when a hiring need becomes evident.
This piece of the strategic plan might indeed improve interdepartmental cohesion when it comes to faculty recruitment. It might also encourage academic units to make recruitment more of a priority. But when it comes to getting top faculty members to say yes to the University, strategy only goes so far. The market takes care of the rest. So the conversation that the Board will have Friday about faculty-recruitment strategies will be incomplete unless the body also addresses how it will pay the faculty the University’s strategy aims to recruit.