Research provides incentive to faculty

by Erin Ghere

The University has begun a big push to raise faculty members’ salaries, but money is not the only thing attracting faculty members to Minnesota.
Recently, University President Mark Yudof proposed a 5.5 percent tuition increase to fund a 3 percent faculty member pay raise to attract and keep faculty members at the University. The University currently ranks 26th out of the top 30 research universities for faculty members’ salaries.
But faculty members also look at research opportunities and the University’s reputation in areas of expertise as huge factors in deciding on the University.
Some faculty members make large sacrifices and alter family and career plans to come to the University for those reasons.
After one year of “commuting” from Chicago, history professor Barbara Welke and her family are moving to the Twin Cities.
She taught her first University course in the fall of 1998, after working as a lawyer in Chicago and then going back to school to become a professor.
Her family stayed in Chicago while she spent her weeks in the Twin Cities, returning to Chicago nearly every weekend to see her husband and children.
And her salary is not a motivating factor to make the extra effort.
“First and most importantly, the U has a strong record as a research institution,” Welke said. “From what I have seen thus far, it is committed to supporting faculty research.”
In other words, she said, the University offers many opportunities for faculty members to get funding for research. “That’s really critical in a climate in which some sources of public funding are drying up,” she added.
The University’s record in Welke’s area of expertise also appealed to her when looking at the position.
“The U has a strong record in U.S. legal/constitutional history, backed up by a fairly good law school,” she said.
Welke said her husband, who is a partner at a law firm in Chicago, could get a job in the Twin Cities, but he likes his current position, “so we work it out.”
Good academic jobs like tenure-track positions at the University are not easy to come by, so when the opportunity came, she grabbed it, she said.
While Welke divides up the time she spends with her family and the time she spends teaching, other faculty members see family roots in the Twin Cities as the primary reason to stay at the University.
Philosophy professor Michael Root has been at the University for 30 years and has raised his family here.
Once a faculty member has dug roots in the area, they are less likely to leave, he said. The appeal of the Twin Cities and its surrounding communities therefore adds to a potential faculty member’s choice.
Lastly, the University is home to great students and a great community, said Bob Bruininks, University vice president and provost.
The general University community and all of its components put together attract many faculty members, he said.
Salaries are not everything, Welke said.
“Right now, other things — like research support, a good teaching atmosphere and wonderful colleagues — are all more important to me” than a very competitive salary, she said. “Perhaps I’ll change my mind at some point, but I tend to think people are unhappiest about salary when other aspects of their work make a job less than satisfying.”

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]