Despite economy, 'U' hiring, retention efforts still strong, official says

BY JOSEPH LICHTERMAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 13, 2009

While the stagnant economy is affecting employers across the state, the University continues to retain current faculty members and hire new staff, according to University Provost Teresa Sullivan.

Sullivan said the poor economy and its implications for quality of life — like education funding and other public services — is not deterring potential faculty members from accepting jobs at the University. For example, she said every person the University offered a position in the College of Engineering to last year accepted.

“Also, I just have to say the caliber of the new faculty who joined us this year is really high,” she said in an interview last month. “I think they’ll be a really great group.”

Sullivan said the number of job applicants has increased from last year. She cited, in particular, the Michigan Society of Fellows — a Rackham Graduate School program in which postdoctoral students work on specific projects and teach a few classes. Sullivan said the program received 800 applications this year compared with the 100 they received last year.

In previous years, before the economy crashed, Sullivan said the University faced a lot of pressure to retain faculty because other universities were heavily recruiting them.

However, she said, most other institutions are not currently hiring new faculty. She added that this fact is probably temporary, though.

“And the reason is we have a very attractive faculty who are the opinion leaders in their field,” Sullivan said. “They do great research. They also are good with students. So they’re very attractive to other universities.

“So it’s almost inevitable — as other universities get back on their feet, they’re going to start looking at us again as a place to hire away from,” she said.

As a result of diminished competition for faculty, the University this year shrunk its retention fund — a pool of money used to lure back faculty who are given offers from other institutions.

“We cut back a bit on it, but it’s because we think that we’ll have fewer cases that we’ll actually have to deal with,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said she believes that when the economy starts to pick up, other universities will once again to try to persuade faculty away from the University — which means the University will have to up its retention efforts.

Despite the positive hiring picture Sullivan described, she did say that one deterrent for potential faculty members has been the prospect of their spouse being able to find a job.

“(It can be difficult for) dual career couples where one member of the couple will be here at the University and the other member of the couple looks around southeast Michigan and says, ‘Where will I find a job?’” Sullivan said. “It’s not so much hiring the faculty member — its collateral issues for the faculty member.”

Despite the poor economy, faculty members with young children want to come to the University because of Ann Arbor’s highly ranked public school system, Sullivan added.

“The public schools are a hiring advantage for us,” she said. “A lot of the schools we compete with are in areas where the public schools are so bad that part of their recruiting offer includes private school tuition for the kids.”