Despite its recent financial difficulties, Wesleyan will not follow a large proportion of American colleges and universities in freezing faculty hiring. According to President Roth, the University has no plan to implement a hiring freeze for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Last Spring, the University approved faculty searches in order to fill several vacancies. Although the economic downturn has since put a strain on spending, the University opted to continue these searches in the fall of 2008 as a way to offer the courses that students need, wrote Vice President for Academic Affairs Joseph Bruno in an e-mail to The Argus.
“Indeed, we are finding that we have had deep applicant pools and have been able to hire a strong group of faculty, and that is a major investment in Wesleyan’s future,” Bruno wrote.
According to Bruno, although there are no plans for a faculty hiring freeze, the University will carefully review all hiring requests that are received for next year. Department chairs have been informed that the University may not be able to approve all incoming requests. It is also unclear how many search requests there will be next year. For this reason, the number of searches that will be conducted next fall has yet to be set.
Unlike Wesleyan, peer institutions such as Middlebury and Harvard have implemented hiring freezes to combat their growing budget deficits.
As far as the rest of the country, The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities conducted a survey in December 2008 to assess the effects of the economic downturn on private colleges. The survey found that 50 percent of its 372 respondents had implemented hiring freezes as a cost-savings measure.
Joseph Rouse, the Chair of the Faculty, explained that institutions with large endowments could have been hit harder by the economic downturn than Wesleyan if they relied significantly on revenue from their investments. These institutions may have also been accustomed to spending more in the short run, which would explain their need to implement greater and more immediate budget cuts, such as hiring freezes.
“If other schools institute a hiring freeze, that doesn’t affect what we do,” Rouse said. “We are comparing the cost of faculty salaries to other costs at Wesleyan, not to the choices other schools make among their priorities.”
If the University had eliminated its searches, it would have been necessary to hire visiting professors instead. Although many peer institutions have adopted hiring freezes as a way to combat their budget crises, postponing searches would only provide modest budgetary advantages, explained Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts.
“The reason is that you have to fill these positions one way or the other unless you are prepared to negatively impact student faculty ratios, class access, and the quality of the faculty who teach at Wesleyan,” Meerts wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
Rouse agreed that it is necessary for the University to hire new permanent faculty members in order to uphold the curriculum and quality of education.
“We do not have a lot of flexibility in maintaining our curriculum,” Rouse said. “We need all the faculty we can get.”
While the number of faculty applicants has remained the same—there are still as many as 300 applications for a single position—the number of individuals interested singularly in Wesleyan has increased.
“With a huge number of schools canceling searches, we have spectacular pools,” Rouse said. “We have fewer schools to compete with when we give an offer to candidate.”
Rouse also explained that qualified candidates might be drawn to Wesleyan over other institutions because of the University’s decision not to institute a faculty hiring freeze.
“When it’s made very clear our priority is having a first rate faculty, that generates good will from the faculty,” Rouse said. “It reflects the institution’s sense of its priorities and I think people understand and respect that.”
When a faculty member retires, the University does not automatically begin a search to fill the position. Instead, existing faculty members and departments must petition the administration in order to mount searches and fill the newly emptied positions. This year, even the replacement positions were authorized due to the need for faculty, Rouse said.
Currently, there are approximately 25 faculty searches in various departments across the University. Generally, University academic departments hold job searches each fall to hire new permanent faculty members. Existing faculty members in each department are in charge of reviewing these applications. Two of these searches are intended to fill positions in the Science and Society Program.
“We could not have mounted an adequate curriculum in Science in Society this next year [without the additional professors],” said Rouse, who is also the Chair of the Science and Society Program.
In light of the economic downturn, faculty members approached President Roth last September to inquire about the likelihood of a reduction in searches. Because searches are a complex process that are approved in the spring of the preceding year and can begin as early as September, faculty members charged with reviewing candidates needed to know early whether or not the searches would be continuing for the 2008-2009 school year.
The administration then informed the faculty of the University’s decision to continue all proposed searches.
“The response was clear,” Rouse said. “We think these positions are needed and we’re going to hire those faculty. Wesleyan is committed to fiscal integrity, but to doing so in a way that keeps the academic core for what we do intact.”