March 14-27, 2003
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Faculty still holding firm
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Virtual reality in music
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Author Tom Clancy to be ‘Clear and Present’ at U.Va. March 21
Political humor: A tribute to Herb Block
Finding history among the trees

‘Creative fingers in the dike’
Faculty still holding firm

By Dan Heuchert

In October, Faculty Senate Chairman Michael J. Smith warned the Board of Visitors of an impending faculty retention crisis as stagnant salaries and budget cuts battered morale.

“Quite frankly, we are in danger of losing good faculty at every level,” Smith said then.

Four months later, there has been no mass exodus, Smith and other University officials say. The same economic conditions that swamped U.Va.’s budget have deterred many potential faculty raiders, while the slumping stock market has senior professors postponing retirement.

“It’s bad all over,” said Gene D. Block, vice president and provost. “The big state systems are all suffering. We may be worse off than some and not as bad as others.”

Private schools are seeing their endowments drop, Block said, forcing cutbacks in their spending. Stanford was forced to impose a 7 percent budget cut, he noted.
In another presentation to the board in late January, Block reported just 12 resignations
among tenured and tenure-track Arts & Sciences faculty in 2002, compared with an average of nearly 31 in the four previous years. Across the University, there were just 59 resignations, compared with an average of nearly 85 in the four previous years.

The University is clearly not yet out of the woods. The academic hiring cycle is just reaching the stage in which final interviews are taking place and offers are being made, said Edward L. Ayers, dean of Arts & Sciences. “The real test is coming up in the next few months,” he acknowledged.

Smith agrees. He’s heard rumors of possible departures. “We shouldn’t be breathing a sigh of relief yet,” he said. “It would be a real mistake to assume that we’re fine.”

Ayers said the University has warded off overtures to some faculty members from schools like Yale, Duke and Penn, but he concedes that somebody will likely leave. The key, he said, is preventing wide-scale panic and offering hope that things will be better. The continued planning for the South Lawn Project and the arts precinct are morale-boosters, he said.

During the fall’s budget cuts, the University set aside $6 million to retain key faculty and sustain some endangered programs. Thus far, none of the “Budget Defense Fund” has been needed to match outside offers, Block said, although he is prepared to use it if need be.

When it comes to a leave-or-stay choice, faculty have demonstrated a high degree of loyalty, he said.

“U.Va. and Charlottesville act as a strong magnet,” Block said. “I think this place has a fair amount of capture value.”

Smith, though, is still cautious. “The deans have done a pretty good job at being proactive and identifying people pretty early as being at risk,” he said. “We have a lot of creative fingers in the dike, but I wouldn’t want to stay in this position for long.”

Overall, the faculty census has remained flat, while student enrollment has climbed steadily. From 2000 through 2002, the University has added just one new faculty member per 91 new undergraduate and graduate students (excluding Law, Darden and Medicine), Block told the Board of Visitors.

Though the hiring freeze on faculty positions was recently thawed, many positions remain unfilled. That has many implications, including shutting off the flow of new ideas and perspectives and slowing progress in diversifying the faculty ranks.

“When you’re not recruiting, you’re standing still,” Smith said. “And when you’re standing still, you’re losing ground.”


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