Tight budget means fewer new faculty at U of M

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U of M faculty orientation
The University of Minnesota is holding a three-day orientation for its new faculty. Budget restraints mean fewer new hires at the school. Two years ago there were 120 new faculty members at orientation, this year there are 60.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Next week the University of Minnesota will welcome 5,000 freshmen to campus. But they won't be the only new faces at the U. The school has also hired a new batch of professors. Because of budget problems, far fewer of them have been hired this year.

It turns out, whether you're a new college student or a new professor, orientation is pretty much the same. You're welcomed to campus by administrators and shown around the place.

A group of new faculty members gathered in a conference room on the U of M's Minneapolis campus this week for three days of orientation. They spent a morning with U of M President Robert Bruininks, and heard from an endless supply of deans and vice provosts.

It has new faculty member Kelsey Metzger feeling like a freshman again.

"There are some interesting parallels. Similar to both is information overload, lots of handouts, speakers, enthusiasm, bright shiny faces excited to start the new year," said Metzger.

As bright and shiny as those faces may be, there are a lot fewer of them this year than in the past. Two years ago, there were more than 120 new professors at this orientation. Today there are 60.

It's a reflection of what's happened across the country, as state funding for higher education has declined and colleges have slashed their budgets.

"We are able to recruit some stellar people who might have had other opportunities in other years."

Nationally job postings for professors, from arts to economics, have fallen between 20-40 percent in the last couple of years.

To save money, the U of M put a hiring pause in place nearly two years ago. It's not an all-out hiring freeze, but it's pretty close.

That means the competition for these jobs was fierce. Stefano Gonella got a job in the civil engineering department.

"I had some teaching experiences from my post-doc time in Northwest University. I had a chance to teach classes. But this is my first full-time teaching position," Gonella said.

Before he got his job at the U of M, Gonella sent out 20 applications, which he's since found out isn't all that many.

"I compared this number with a friend of my mine and this is quite a low number. But it is necessary, because there are not a lot of faculty positions available and it's extremely competitive," he said.

If there is an advantage to the tough market, it may be in the quality of new hires the University of Minnesota is able to snag.

Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs at the U, says even though the school is hiring fewer new professors, the ones being hired have risen above the competition.

"This is very much the top of the heap," said Carney. "I think we've always been lucky that we get very good faculty. But right now the misfortune of other places is our fortune. We are able to recruit some stellar people who might have had other opportunities in other years."

Carney says even though there are half the number of new professors at this year's orientation than two years ago, some of the hires are still surprised at the number of new employees, because they came from universities that aren't hiring any new professors at all.