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Bargaining With The Faculty

Earlier this week we speculated on the possible growth in transfer students to offset revenue declines. But just as important as managing Cornell's student growth in the midst of our severe recession will be managing the number of faculty on campus.

Provost Fuchs spoke a bit about this challenge in his recent interview with the Chronicle:

"Some faculty searches will proceed, but significantly fewer across the entire university," he said. "We need to manage the reduction in the number of faculty strategically, so that high-priority areas don't lose critical faculty."

Fuchs said he will initiate an institutional planning process across the campus in March to establish priorities and to develop strategies for enhancing excellence even as expenditures decline.

It's good to hear that the University isn't planning on stopping all faculty searches. There will be a lot of extremely talented PhD candidates over the next several years, and it will be much easier to bring them to Cornell in the current environment.

It's often been said that the faculty are the heart of the university, and I see no better time to leverage this resource than in the face of the present financial calamities. So I wonder if the University can't explore some creative policies with the faculty to help embolden the university during the present financial situation.

Mainly, the provost should ask faculty -- particularly full professors -- to volunteer to increase their course load. Faculty should also be encouraged to take a 10 percent pay cut in step with the one that Skorton has already taken.

The benefits of this should be fairly obvious. Not only will it free up some money that can be invested elsewhere throughout the university -- including funds for research and more junior faculty, but it will also help to alleviate crowded classrooms and even help the University's revenue stream by allowing more students to be educated.

Why do I suggest targeting full professors, you may ask? Well, they are the most sheltered from the demands of research and publication, and while some may be fully engaged across the country and the world within their various professions, others may find they can spare an additional four contact hours with students a week in courses they already feel comfortable teaching. And senior faculty are often attached to Cornell through lifelong bonds, so it would only be natural that they would want to help an institution that has been so vital to their own career.

They also have the highest salaries -- salaries which have appreciated measurably over the last decade, and are often in line with salaries at institutions in higher priced metros -- like Chicago (Northwestern) or Baltimore (JHU).

Now, before I start receiving hate-mail from my former professors, I should stress that my proposal is a voluntary one, and I don't mean to suggest that there isn't bloat in Day Hall, the administrative offices of the colleges, and the different student service divisions that shouldn't be heavily scrutinized. But a little bit of charity on the part of established faculty might help to bolster their own departments and help to stem further drastic actions down the road.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 25, 2009 (#)

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