Economy drives universities to stall hiring

The sluggish economy has struggled for months, and universities across the country are implementing hiring freezes, âÄúpausesâÄù and halting pay increases to compensate. The University of Minnesota joined a long list of higher-education institutions when it announced a âÄúhiring pauseâÄù earlier this month, stipulating that new hires for an indefinite period of time must be essential, a move that could challenge departments looking to fill vacancies. âÄúFor the past several months, the University has been planning for potential changes,âÄù University President Bob Bruininks said in an e-mail sent to faculty, obtained by the Daily . âÄúPositions must cover work that is essential to University operations.âÄù And at the Board of Regents meeting less than a week after that announcement, Bruininks declared a pay freeze for the schoolâÄôs senior executives âÄî including himself âÄî that he estimated would save $500,000 per year. But even before the announcement, the sociology department had planned to hire two new faculty members and one staff person, but the pause complicates things, sociology professor and department chair Chris Uggen said. Vying for top faculty candidates is already highly competitive, Uggen said, and the UniversityâÄôs dubious hiring future could steer some candidates to other schools. Some potential professors also have bids from renowned schools such as Yale University, and as news of the hiring pause spreads, the University finds itself in a bind when candidates canâÄôt risk the wait. One candidate even canceled her interview, Uggen said. âÄúThatâÄôs disappointing,âÄù he added. Six candidates have been invited to interview for faculty posts, and the process will go forward as planned âÄî except for the actual hiring. âÄúRecruiting faculty is a long-term process and takes a lot of wooing, and we set up kind of a packed interview schedule,âÄù Uggen said. âÄúWeâÄôre proceeding as best we can.âÄù The pauseâÄôs future depends on the state budget forecast for the University, expected in January, said associate vice president Sharon Reich Paulsen , who also serves as chief of staff to Provost Tom Sullivan . Until then, departments in non-Academic Health Center colleges must request hires to deans of their colleges which, if approved, go before the Provost for final endorsement as a necessary hire. The Academic Health Center handles its hiring requests separately. The ProvostâÄôs Office has received more than 10 r equests since the pause announcement on Nov. 11 . Most are for staff, because faculty hiring is generally more complex. But, Reich Paulsen cautioned, itâÄôs too soon to base any judgments on requests already received. More faculty-hire requests are expected. âÄúItâÄôs not a meaningful exercise to look at numbers yet,âÄù she said. âÄúThereâÄôs no context for that yet.âÄù In the provostâÄôs review, maintaining the UniversityâÄôs quality and competitiveness is a priority, as well as increasing productivity and reducing cost, Reich Paulsen said. So far, she said, there hasnâÄôt been any backlash. âÄúPeople understand that universities worldwide are facing a different economic reality today,âÄù Reich Paulsen said. âÄúIt is prudent in light of that to take a step back and think about where you need to be going in the future.âÄù Part of that is encouraging departments to reassess and be strategic in hiring. That also requires, at least in the short-term, rearranging within departments. The pause, Uggen said, could make staffing courses difficult. âÄúIt might mean playing some folks out of position a little bit, teaching out of their areas of research or teaching expertise,âÄù he said. Still, heâÄôs confident in the overall quality of his program. âÄúIt just means weâÄôll have to scramble a bit more in the short-term and make the best of the resources that we have,âÄù he said. In the longer term, Uggen said the key task is continuing positive departmental momentum despite dire economic circumstances. âÄúIt often takes decades to build up such a reputation, and once youâÄôve achieved a certain level it can diminish very quickly,âÄù he said. âÄúThose are the challenges facing the [University] president, provost and deans all over the University.âÄù