Brown University Taps New Talent

PREDICTIONS of faculty shortages during the next decade are driving increased competition for talented, young professors.

Last month Brown University president Vartan Gregorian announced a plan to create 65 endowed chairs for assistant professors by 1995.

"Normally endowed chairs are for senior professors or occasionally for specialized areas," says Linda Ray Pratt, president of the Association of American University Professors in Washington, D.C. "Clearly there have been some endowed chairs held by assistant professors [in the past]. But a strategy to endow numerous chairs for assistant professors is a new direction."

The Providence, R.I., university plans to fund the endowed teaching positions as part of a five-year campaign to raise $450 million. "We are investing a significant portion of the campaign in a new faculty generation," said President Gregorian in announcing the plan. "In doing so, we place our faith in these rising professors, in their promise, in their enthusiasm, and in their devotion to teaching and research."

The endowed chairs for assistant professors will be financed by individual donations of $1 million each. The university already has commitments to endow 11 assistant professorships.

The chairs will not fall within traditional academic departments but will be designated by four broad disciplinary areas: physical sciences, social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. These designations give the university more flexibility of resources, says Mark Nickel, a Brown University spokesman.

Along with competitive salaries, the prestigious positions will bring several other benefits for assistant professors. A discretionary fund will be available for attending conferences or traveling for research purposes. In addition, each endowed assistant professorship will include funds to pay a graduate assistant who will help with research or teaching responsibilities.

All of this is intended to help promising young professors establish themselves as exemplary scholars early in their careers.

"I would expect assistant professors to find [these endowed chairs] very attractive," Ms. Pratt says. But, she adds, many institutions are in no position to match Brown's offer. Budget cuts are reducing the number of positions available and holding down salaries. "The rate of students per teacher in the university is going up," Pratt says. "In the 1950s, it averaged out at 10 students per professor. It's now a little over 17 students per professor."

If universities try to maintain the current ratio of students to teachers, faculty shortages "will be very real," says Pratt. "Whether or not there is going to be the money to hire the faculty we need in this country is another question."

A large proportion of today's professors were hired during the 1960s to accommodate increasing enrollments at colleges. Today, those professors are reaching retirement age, and a new generation of scholars is being recruited.

About 15 percent of Brown's faculty will reach retirement age within the next four years. And during the next decade, more than 30 percent of the Brown faculty will be eligible for retirement.

Gregorian also has announced a plan to create semester-long fellowships for retired professionals, either emeritus faculty or retired businessmen and artists. "No country wastes as cavalierly its retired talent as America," Gregorian said. "This program will provide an additional way of enriching the undergraduate curriculum by exposing students to a broad spectrum of the nation's best, most seasoned talent."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.