University still faces problem of dwindling faculty members

by Sam Kean

Sociology professor Candace Kruttschnitt faced a decision a few years ago: remain in a department eroded by University budget cuts or move on to a different college.
After a commitment from the dean’s office to replenish the depleted faculty, Kruttschnitt declined an offer from another college.
After 1996 the number of faculty members increased. Kruttschnitt, now chair of sociology, said strain on faculty due to a tight budget has subsequently reduced.
But the problem of dwindling faculty numbers still looms over the University.
Increasing health care costs will need to be offset by legislative funding, or any progress in the number of new hirings could unravel, said College of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Rosenstone.
To combat this problem, University President Mark Yudof presented the Board of Regents with the following budget request: $2.5 million for faculty retention and recruitment, a 3 percent raise in faculty pay, and a four-year, $32.2 million proposal to boost pay to the median level among the top 30 research institutions.
State Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, said the 3 percent increase is likely to pass, but she would have to examine the other plans in more detail.
The University’s main competition for funding, she said, are general tax cuts and smaller state universities.
Rosenstone said if legislative funding does not come through, the University could have a problem retaining top faculty and recruiting new talent.
This situation resembles the crises the University faced in the last decade, he said.
In the early 1990s, budget cuts forced the University to reduce the number of new faculty members it hired. Departments shrunk and faculty were overwhelmed trying to teach in addition to maintaining normal research responsibilities, Kruttschnitt said.
For instance, CLA lost 120 faculty members, and by 1996 could only hire five new ones.
As a result, word spread among possible professor candidates. Kruttschnitt said they did not want to join a “sinking ship.”
Recruiting efforts were revived in 1997 because of University budget increases.
Rosenstone said with new hirings, various CLA departments avoided precarious drops in national rankings and prestige.
New faculty members also infuse energy into departments by bringing fresh perspectives and cutting-edge work to the University, Kruttschnitt said, while at the same time boosting morale.
She explained faculty losses affect more than just the University — communities benefit from what professors research and teach their students.
But, she added, “the public doesn’t understand or appreciate what faculty do.”

Sam Kean covers faculty and appreciates comments at [email protected]