After stage of rapid growth, size of faculty shrinks

By
News Editor
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

For the first time since an ambitious effort to expand Brown’s faculty began earlier this decade, the size of the University’s faculty has declined slightly this year, losing a net of three members.

The University began the year with 686 faculty members, down from 689 at the start of the last academic year, according to data released by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty last month. The size of last year’s faculty represented a 20 percent increase over the 573 faculty on campus in 2001-2002, the academic year immediately preceding the boom in faculty hiring that later became a foundational element of the Plan for Academic Enrichment.

That wide-reaching blueprint, whose core elements were first outlined by President Ruth Simmons in February 2002, calls for 100 new faculty positions, including 25 “target of opportunity” spots, which enable the University to quickly hire  especially distinguished professors when such opportunities arise.

Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98 said 82 of those 100 positions have been filled so far, including 20 of the 25 “target” spots. But faculty expansion is nearing an end, he said.

“There was a fairly intense period of hiring,” he said. “We’re kind of past that heyday.”
The size of the faculty had increased by about 18 members per year from the 2001-2002 academic year through the 2007-2008 year, but last year the faculty grew by only nine members.

The three-member decrease in faculty for the 2009-2010 academic year did not differ greatly from what had been an anticipated “modest growth” of about four members, said Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P’07.

“Quite apart from the economic downturn coming at this time, I think that in the normal course of implementing the Plan for Academic Enrichment, we would be slowing down growth,” Vohra said.

This year’s new data are not necessarily indicative of a certain pattern of faculty growth, said Faculty Executive Committee chair Chung-I Tan, a professor of physics and chair of the department.

“At a given year, a slight drop of this sort is not to be an alarm,” he said. “Every effort has been made to maintain the momentum we’ve gained.”

By aggressively growing the faculty before waiting for the $1.4 billion Campaign for Academic Enrichment to meet 100 percent of its goal, President Ruth Simmons “did something rather bold,” Kertzer said.

Considering the economic effects of the past year, Kertzer added, “We’ve been remarkably successful in staying on track.”
 
Salary freezes

Kertzer said flattening faculty growth coincided with the salary freeze implemented this year for most faculty.

“To be adding a lot of faculty while freezing salaries, from a faculty point of view, would have been questionable,” he said.

The new report by Vohra’s office showed a slight increase in the median salaries of professors at every level between the 2007-2008 and 200820’09 years, though both Vohra and Kertzer said the change in median salary in the current academic year will be close to zero because of the salary freeze.

According to the data, the median salary of full professors rose 3.2 percent last year, from $131,127 to $135,424. Associate professors saw their median salary go up by 3.7 percent, from $84,000 to $87,213. The median salary of assistant professors increased from $73,500 to $75,328, or 2.4 percent.

Vohra cautioned that median salaries can be misleading because in any given year some faculty are promoted, while others leave the University and are replaced.

A more accurate measure is the total salary increase of returning faculty, Vohra said. That number was about 4 percent last year and had been 5 percent and higher during the early years of the Plan, he said.

Last year, the growth of salaries of full professors at Brown was fourth-highest in the Ivy League, while the growth of associate and assistant professors’ mean salaries at Brown ranked seventh, according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Still, Brown remains the lowest-paying Ivy League school at every level.

Faculty are generally understanding of the salary freeze, Tan said, but a prolonged freeze might undo some of the positive changes that have occurred underSimmons’ leadership.

“At some point, in order to remain competitive, you have to address that issue,” he said.  

Searching and ‘targeting’

Vohra said endowment losses across the country have eliminated some of the “usual suspects” among peer institutions that are typically looking to hire faculty, which makes it easier for schools like Brown to attract talent. But despite many active searches in different departments, administrators have told departments to be “particularly selective,” he said. Many department chairs said they have not encountered much difficulty in hiring new faculty.

Department Chair and Professor of History Omer Bartov said he saw “no contradiction” between a drop in the overall number of faculty and the University’s pursuit of new high-profile senior faculty. Because the overall growth of the faculty may remain limited, recruiting prominent and established faculty makes sense, he said.

But Bartov added that he has concerns about the use of the “target” program. Such hires, typically older professors, often do not stay at Brown for very long, and can make a department “top-heavy,” he said.

Bartov cautioned against moving too far in the direction of prioritizing more senior, “target” hires over younger faculty.

Andrew Foster, professor of economics and department chair, said he appreciated the flexibility that the “target” program has given departments.

“It used to be the case historically at Brown that you had to argue for how many FTEs you had,” Foster said, referring to “full-time equivalent” faculty members. “You just never know when you start the year who’s going to be available.”

The new data show that most new positions since the 2002-2003 academic year have been at the level of assistant professor.

The number of assistant professors has jumped 51.6 percent, while the number of associate professors is up 11 percent and full professors have increased by 10.2 percent in that time. The number of lecturer positions at the senior and junior levels saw a 4.3 percent increase.

For Kenneth Wong, professor of education and chair of the department, the key issue now is not the size of the faculty, but the amount of support available. Increasing resources for the growing faculty has been one of the Plan’s primary goals.
“I think that that’s one area that we need to think through more carefully,” Wong said.