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Brown's administration, like any other, has its successes and its failures, and it deserves to be congratulated for the creation and continued improvement of the Target of Opportunity hiring program.

The initiative, a part of President Ruth Simmons' Plan for Academic Enrichment, allows departments to request new faculty on an accelerated timetable outside of the normal hiring cycle. Twenty of the 25 slots devoted to the program under the Plan are currently occupied, but while overall hiring is slowing down, the Target positions will become available for new hires if their current occupants leave the University.

Target of Opportunity hiring has already proven its worth in full and has made great strides since its inception. The most celebrated new professor brought in through the program is the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe.

But not all targeted hires are world-renowned luminaries. Outstanding junior faculty are also among the fast-tracked new arrivals, including some talented women assistant professors in the physical sciences, according to Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P'07. Without the program, they might well have been snapped up by our peer institutions; instead, they will help make Brown a leader in tapping into the underutilized potential of women in quantitative fields.

Brown's targeting capabilities have also improved in recent years.
In 2005, The Herald reported that many departments were disappointed by the University's sluggish reaction to requests for Target hires, which negated much of the program's usefulness. Four years on, the process runs much more smoothly and quickly without sacrificing careful consideration of departmental choices.

The most tempting use of Target of Opportunity is to stock the faculty with big names such as Achebe. But no department can run on star power alone. While the program has been well-utilized to date, Department Chair and Professor of History Omer Bartov has rightly suggested that target-of-opportunity hiring could enable an unhealthy shift in faculty composition.

Some departments could end up with an excess of senior professors; while each field has its own balance to strike between junior and senior faculty, an imbalance is an inherent risk of the flexibility targeting provides. And unreasonably high turnover rates from sought-after professors exploring other options could undermine the reliability and long-term planning required to maintain high-quality research and instruction.

If the administration continues to carefully monitor trends in the requests under the program, keeping in mind the widely varying priorities of the departments, the potential downsides of Target of Opportunity are unlikely to emerge.

The average student enjoys the luxury of being able to simultaneously revere Ruth individually and vociferate against the administration generally. But target-of-opportunity hiring, shepherded by a group effort, is a proven and ongoing success for which the administration deserves our thanks.

Yes, that success is conditional. But we would all do well to keep it in mind before condemning the administration en masse for their next slip-up.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials(at)browndailyherald.com.




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