The time is ripe for hiring new faculty as retirement numbers swell
The tide is rising in our faculty pool as the average age of professors in the College continues to climb. Demographic shifts reveal a troubling trend as an oncoming wave of retirement threatens to leave a human deficit in its wake. As the College races to find new talent to fill the impending gap, it faces an unprecedented opportunity to shape the course of its future for years to come.
“The faculty body is healthy when it has a balanced age demographic,” said Judy Appleton, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in charge of academic appointments at the College. “To maintain a healthy dynamic we need to maintain continual intake. During my first year as Associate Dean in 2007 only one person retired. This year four will retire. It’s the beginning of a wave.”
A demographic swell has been building across the University since a brief hiring boom in the late 1980s. Since then the proportion of University professors aged 55 and above has doubled from 25% in 1982 to 50% in 2010. Numbers at the College climbed even more sharply, from 21% then to today’s unprecedented 57%. For the University and especially for the College, hiring strong new faculty has become more crucial than ever before.
“This is the perfect time to strengthen our faculty base,” said Appleton. “It’s a buyer’s market in the wake of the recession. Universities haven’t been hiring, there’s a backlog of post-docs searching for positions creating an extremely competitive pool. At the same time, we are competing with other universities in the same situation, vying to attract the cream of the crop.”
This year the College embarked on three new faculty searches for positions in the Department of Clinical Sciences. Each position attracted between 140 and 190 applications. According to Appleton, the applications were extraordinary, and competition with other universities grew heated as we bid for the best of the best.
“Recruitment in the sciences is extremely expensive,” said Appleton. “A new researcher needs significant startup funds to establish a lab, buy equipment, and hire students and assistants. Finding startup funds is our most significant challenge. The rest of the university is trying to hire pre-fills in anticipation of retirements. Because of high startup costs in our field, it’s all we can do to keep up with retirements as they come.”
This summer, department chairs across the College will convene to form a “five-year faculty needs forecast”. They will determine the College’s hiring needs, set up search committees, post positions, and interview this fall. Next fall will see a new incoming class of College faculty that will shape the next generation of our academic leaders.
“This will be the most important thing we do,” said Appleton. “It is a great responsibility, and very challenging in the current financial climate. It is also a fantastic opportunity that will set the course of the veterinary college for the next 100 years.”