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Faculty searches cut to 20

In an Aug. 4 letter to department chairs, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe announced that only 20 faculty searches will take place this year, down considerably from the 31 or 32 that he said were originally planned.  

 

The reduction is designed to take pressure off a strapped A&S budget, which faces a deficit for the foreseeable future. An average search costs about $100,000, meaning Chafe will be able to save over $1 million in 2003-2004 via this measure. 

 

Chafe, who will be stepping down to return to teaching and research at the end of this year, said he hoped to stabilize the financial situation for his successor.

"It would be difficult to attract good candidates were the new dean to be saddled with a severe budget crisis, limiting a new administration's freedom to develop its own agenda for improvement," he wrote. 

 

Chafe said the ultimate goal over the next few years will be to reduce the size of the faculty by about 20. While inconsistent with the dramatic faculty growth the University experienced over the last decade, the overall size would still be larger than when Chafe took office in 1995. A return to normal search numbers--30 to 40 searches per year--is projected for 2005-2006. 

 

Many faculty members were disappointed with the prospect of a shrinking faculty, but said they understood that Chafe made a reasonable decision given the circumstances. 

 

"I thought the letter was very effective and a lot of the faculty I talked to found Chafe's letter very useful and effective in explaining why this was done," said Michael Munger, chair of the political science department. "A lot of the faculty were upset, but they read his explanation and said, 'Oh, I see.'" 

 

The Arts and Sciences Council resolved last November against decreasing the size of the faculty, and departments generally seek to grow to boost graduate programs, research and reputation. For some departments, the decision to reduce searches comes as a tough blow. 

 

"In the history department we have 35 people and we're competing with departments that have as many as 90," said history professor John Richards. "We're very much smaller so it's harder to compete.... If you wish to build a viable graduate program, in many fields, you have to have enough people doing first-class research to attract people there." 

 

However, the most shorthanded department, economics, has a pre-existing agreement with the dean to supply more faculty members over the course of five years. Assuming Chafe acts in good faith, said economics professor Roy Weintraub, the department will eventually get its sorely needed faculty additions. 

 

This year's budget shortfall comes from a variety of causes, some of which were unanticipated. The increasing number of new buildings on campus is taking a significant toll on Arts and Sciences, which pays 60 percent of these buildings' maintenance and operation costs. Also, due to the faltering economy and a change in federal policy, Arts and Sciences was forced to bear an unexpectedly large burden of financial aid costs this year. 

 

These grim financial realities, as explained by Chafe, made sense to a number of faculty members. 

 

"It's unfortunate to have to make that decision [to conduct fewer searches], but I know that there have been some unexpected factors that are throwing the budget way out of balance," said Katherine Ewing, associate professor of cultural anthropology and chair of the Arts and Sciences Council. "You always have to make tradeoffs when you balance the budget." 

 

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