One of the largest incoming groups of new faculty members in recent memory is joining UConn this month, as the University works to solidify its academic core, strengthen research and teaching in key fields, and reduce class sizes.
The University is holding a full-day orientation program today for 165 new faculty members, familiarizing them with UConn’s academic and research mission while helping them navigate the nuts and bolts of joining its workforce.
The large contingent of new faculty members is tangible evidence of the success of the University’s four-year hiring initiative, which has been described as one of the most ambitious plans of its type in U.S. higher education – especially in such tight economic times.
It’s about quality, not just quantity: UConn has recruited professors from several of the nation’s top institutions, including some who gave up tenure at their previous universities because they wanted to be part of UConn’s momentum.
“As soon as I set foot on the UConn campus, I felt there was tremendous energy here,” says Paul Herrnson, a nationally known political scientist who came from the University of Maryland to UConn, where he is a political science professor and director of UConn’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.
“The University is experiencing major growth, and as someone who’s spent a lot of his career in institution-building, I’m excited to be part of that,” he says.
Seeking to strategically expand its faculty in key research and teaching areas and boost the number of classes offered, UConn is aiming to recruit 290 new tenure-track faculty members under the hiring program, in addition to normal hiring to fill vacancies as needed.
The faculty hiring plan has attracted new professors and researchers from University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Rutgers, Princeton, Temple, Michigan State, and many other top-tier public and private institutions.
Some of the new faculty members say the hiring plan and the ambitious, optimistic sentiment behind it made UConn an attractive choice. Several also mentioned being impressed by the commitment to excellence in research, service-learning, and diversity.
“The University is expanding dramatically, and the atmosphere around campus and within my new department makes me very optimistic about the future. That was a meaningful factor in my decision,” says Chad Cotti, who joined UConn’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of Wisconsin, and whose research into the decision-making and personal economics of risky behaviors has been cited in The New York Times and other publications.
Cotti and others also said they were impressed by UConn’s commitment to providing resources and support for research, specialized centers for important disciplines, and other investments.
Several also said they were struck by the collegial attitude of the UConn faculty and administrators they met, and the quality of life that Connecticut offers.
“When I visited Storrs, the area struck me as very family-friendly, with good schools and a friendly culture, all of which were positives when considering the opportunity,” Cotti said.
Molly Land, who is joining the School of Law, says she took notice of UConn’s recruitment of what she called “an amazing and diverse faculty who work in the area of human rights,” along with the establishment and support of its Human Rights Institute and the Dodd Center.
“There are very few universities that have made human rights as much of a priority as UConn has,” says Land, who comes to UConn from New York Law School. “I also appreciated the school’s commitment to innovative teaching, as well as the rigorous scholarly environment.”
Human rights law and policy, the area of Land’s expertise, is one of several targeted areas in which UConn is building its strength through the faculty hiring initiative. Others include genomics and its associated disciplines; environment and sustainability; insurance risk and health policy; digital media; and several others.
Many of the incoming faculty members earned their Ph.D. credentials at Ivy League schools and other top-tier public and private universities. Their expertise runs the gamut from additive manufacturing to Chinese language, school reform policy, public health, global climate change, family policy, marine sciences, neuroscience, and a host of other specialties.
“With new faculty come new ideas for research and innovation, and opportunities for collaboration,” says Sally M. Reis, UConn vice provost for academic affairs. “With these outstanding new faculty members, we are poised to become an even greater University in the next decade.”
The majority of the faculty hiring initiative is being funded through a four-year tuition increase plan passed by the University’s Board of Trustees in December 2011 to significantly boost research capability, increase course offerings, and reduce class sizes for students.
All the net dollars generated from the increases are going toward the faculty hiring, which will also be supplemented through other University funds and spending reductions elsewhere on campus.
Although UConn has welcomed other new large “classes” of incoming faculty members in the past 15 years, none has been as large as this year’s group of 165 people. Even in strong economic years, the University generally brought in between 50 and 60 new professors each fall.
The orientation for the new faculty members began with a welcome from President Susan Herbst, Provost Mun Choi, and Vice Provost Reis.
The professors also learned about various services and training programs at the University; research and compliance guidelines; procedures for promotion, tenure, and reappointment; and other logistical and policy information.