Report of the Working Committee on Academic Stature/Faculty Development, Recruitment Retention

Committee Membership:*
Michael Dougher, Professor and Chair, Psychology (Chair)
Miriam Chavez, Assoc. Professor, Biology- Valencia County Branch
Richard Holder, Associate Provost
William Rayburn, Professor and Chair, OB-GYN
Tey Diana Rebolledo, Professor, Spanish and Portuguese
Susan Scott, Asst. Professor, Pediatrics

Liaisons from the Strategic Planning Task Force:
John Trotter
William Miller

Submitted to Provost Brian Foster

November 10, 2000

* Hugh Witemeyer, Professor in the Dept. of English, resigned as a member of this committee.

Introduction.  The specific charge to this committee asked that we consider the issues of academic stature/ faculty development, recruitment and retention as they apply to the entire University.  This includes the main campus, the north campus, the branch campuses, and the Extended University.  Given the range of faculty duties, expectations, and resources in these different settings and the different set of functions that each of these settings serves, it was impossible to develop a general set of criteria that could be used to assess the topic of our charge across these settings.  In addition, our committee was handicapped by the relatively short period of time in which to collect relevant data and considerable difficulty in arranging times at which all of the members of the committee could meet.  As a result, this report focuses primarily, although not exclusively, on the issues of academic stature/faculty development, recruitment and retention as they apply to the main campus.  However, many of the issues raised in this report apply to all UNM faculty.  Because of the different mission of the branch campuses and the unique and serious problems facing branch campus faculty, there is a separate section on the branch campuses at the end of report.

Although clearly related, academic stature and faculty development, recruitment and retention present somewhat different sets of issues.  Accordingly, we have opted to address these issues separately, commenting where relevant on their inter-relation.  Although we understand that the committee was instructed to be mindful of the financial, political and social contexts within which the University must function, we felt that it was important to address our topic areas fully, candidly and directly.  We understand that the issues we raise are sensitive and solutions may be difficult to achieve.

Academic Stature.  The academic stature of a university is primarily a function of the quality of its faculty and its academic programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  In that regard, UNM is doing fairly well.  Many faculty enjoy outstanding national and international reputations, and a number of our academic programs on both the main and north campuses are considered excellent.  Recent surveys by the UNM Institute for Public Policy (UNM-IPP) indicate that both the UNM faculty and the residents of New Mexico see UNM as a good university with some excellent academic programs.  Fifty percent of New Mexico residents surveyed said they had a positive impression of UNM, and 60% said they would choose UNM for themselves or their children.  One much publicized measure of the quality of the UNM faculty is the dramatic increase in extramural research support over the past several years.  As President Gordon has said on several occasions, whatever measure of quality the University enjoys is primarily the result of the quality of its faculty.

 Having acknowledged the excellence of some of UNM’s faculty and academic programs, it is also fair to say that there is considerable variability in quality across campus and that the overall level of academic quality could be improved.  In the UNM-IPP survey of UNM faculty and staff, 29% of the faculty agree that UNM is best known for specific academic programs, but only 10% indicate that it is best known for its general academic program.  Moreover, 57% of the faculty respondents indicated that UNM should be known for its general rather than specific academic programs.  In a UNM-IPP survey of New Mexico citizens, only 15% of those who said they would choose UNM for themselves or their children gave academic excellence as the reason for their choice; 45% pointed to UNM’s proximity to home/family/friends. Conversely, 29% of those who said they would not choose UNM cited UNM’s academic quality as the reason for their decision.
 Another measure of academic stature is the ranking of a university and its academic programs relative to other universities.  Unfortunately, UNM was not included in the latest National Research Council rankings, and there are real problems with the way universities are evaluated and ranked by such publications as US News and World Report.  Nevertheless, these rankings do give some indication of the general reputation of the University and its departments and programs.  By these indicators, the rankings of the various departments and programs at UNM are mixed.  Some departments are ranked highly, while others fall toward the lower end of the distribution.  As an undergraduate institution, however, UNM seems consistently to be rated rather low.  In a recent issue of US News and World Report, for example, UNM was placed in the lowest tier of undergraduate institutions.  Interestingly, UNM’s overall academic quality was rated above average.  The low ranking was due primarily to UNM’s low admission standards, low retention rates and low 4-5 year graduation rates.  It is clear that the central administration has gone to some lengths to address these problems, but the fact remains that many UNM undergraduate are poorly prepared for university-level study (a full 40% require remediation in some basic academic areas, and that rate is probably higher at the branches) and only a spin doctor could describe the overall quality of our undergraduates as good.  The quality of the undergraduate student body is an important factor in determining a university’s academic stature, and UNM suffers in this regard.  Moreover, it is a factor that affects faculty morale, retention and recruitment.

 Clearly UNM faces some formidable obstacles in trying to improve the academic quality of its undergraduates.  Because of the current funding formula, which is based primarily on student enrollments, raising admission standards would entail considerable financial as well as political costs.  Obviously, the funding formula is poorly suited to the current emphases and aspirations of the University, and the administration is strongly encouraged to redouble their efforts to work with the legislature to adopt a formula that is more appropriate for a research university.  In addition, the University should increase its efforts to recruit high-quality high school students from both within and outside the state.  We are aware that such a campaign was initiated a few years ago with the assistance of an outside consulting firm.  However, little is known about the results of that campaign or whether it still exists.  One particularly difficult obstacle concerning the quality of UNM undergraduates is that most UNM students come from New Mexico high schools.  There is no gainsaying that the quality of public high school education in New Mexico is generally poor.  Trying to improve the quality of public education in New Mexico has been a difficult process due largely to low teacher salaries, low teacher quality, and low levels of funding for education.  We think that the University’s involvement in K-12 education and its efforts to enhance the educational requirements for teachers is a step in the right direction and should be continued and even increased.  However, at best, this is likely to be a slow and difficult process.

 Another factor affecting the University’s academic stature is the quality of its graduate and professional programs.  Here again, the picture is mixed.  Some programs on both the main and north campuses are excellent; others are below average.  It is widely known that graduate enrollments in general are down, and many departments report difficulty in attracting high quality graduate students.  Declining graduate enrollments has been a national trend in the last few years, but UNM’s enrollment decline is greater than average.  Part of the problem is that our GA/TA stipends rank at or near the bottom of our peer institutions and are as much as $5000 to $6000 (depending on the discipline) below those offered by universities in neighboring states.  The recent decision to provide low-cost health insurance to UNM graduate students has been helpful, as were the recent increases in GA/TA stipends.  However, our current stipends are still too low and severely limit our ability to compete for good graduate students.

The academic quality of a program or department and UNM’s general academic reputation are two other factors that pertain to a program’s ability to recruit high caliber graduate students.  High quality graduate students are attracted to high quality programs with high-quality faculty at Universities with good academic reputations.  The higher quality programs have less difficulty recruiting good graduate students than do lower quality programs, but even the high quality programs report that UNM’s general academic reputation is somewhat of hindrance to their graduate recruiting efforts.

Faculty Development, Recruitment, and Retention.  We will discuss each of these topics separately, but a good way to begin to address these issues is simply to ask, What do good faculty want from a university?  Based on our committee’s discussions and conversations with faculty from the north, south and branch campuses, we offer the following response. Faculty want a) adequate compensation for their work; b) recognition for their research and teaching achievements; c) to be part of a stimulating and creative community of scholars; d) the infrastructure and resources necessary for their research and teaching; e) to be affiliated with a university with a good academic reputation or one with the commitment, vision, and wherewithal to achieve it; f) bright, motivated and prepared students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; g) a role in the governance of the university.  How does UNM stack up on these dimensions?

 With respect to adequate compensation, UNM clearly falls short.  As is well known to all, UNM faculty compensation is 12% below the average of our peer institutions, which is at the bottom of the distribution nationally.  The prospect for any real improvement in this picture seems bleak.  This is a very demoralizing state of affairs that has resulted in the loss of some of our best faculty (see below), impedes the development of our current faculty, and handicaps our efforts to recruit and hire new faculty.  Excluding the Schools of Law and Medicine, there are currently more than 50 faculty lines that cannot be filled because of inadequate resources.  Forty of these are in the College of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the University’s academic programs.  This has resulted in an increased reliance of part-time faculty, fewer course offerings in many departments, larger course enrollments, increased faculty teaching loads, more reliance on multiple-choice tests, less opportunity for student-faculty interaction, and greater feelings of frustration and alienation among both students and faculty.  From any perspective, inadequate compensation is a very serious problem and the single most important factor affecting faculty development, recruitment and retention.

 Turning to the issue of recognition for research and teaching achievements, the University has made some strides, but a good deal more needs to be done.  For example, the University gives only three campus wide Teacher of the Year awards, and faculty are eligible to win these awards only once.  Some colleges and schools hand out their own teaching awards, but again, there are relatively few.  Not only are there relatively few teaching awards available, the stipends associated with these awards are not particularly generous and are awarded on a one-time basis.  It would be far more meaningful if these awards carried a permanent salary increase.  The Presidential Teaching Fellows program is a much better way to recognize outstanding teaching and should be expanded.

 The University has more ways of recognizing scholarly achievement than teaching achievement, but more needs to be done here as well.  Faculty recognition programs have a way of fading away (e.g., the Faculty Scholars Program) and there even seems to be some reluctance on the part of the central administration to recognize scholarly achievement.  For example, it took six years of repeated requests from a department chair and the Dean of Arts and Sciences before the central administration finally agreed to award the title of Distinguished Professor to a clearly deserving faculty member.  The administration never formally declined the requests, it simply failed to respond.  When the title was eventually awarded, it came with neither a stipend nor an increase in salary, despite the fact that ostensibly this is the highest level of distinction the University gives.  It is easy to see how some faculty get the idea that the administration is relatively unaware and indifferent to scholarly achievement and only seems to get interested when good faculty obtain job offers from other institutions.  A more proactive approach to recognizing faculty achievement might preclude the loss of our good faculty to other institutions and is strongly encouraged.  The Regents’ Professors and Lectureships awards are examples of the kind of programs the University can use to recognize faculty achievement, but there should be more of these programs and the rewards should be more meaningful.

 Some faculty do indeed feel as if they are part of a community of stimulating scholars.  This is especially true of those faculty working in productive and well-known departments or those involved in interdisciplinary, collaborative research that is either already recognized or gaining recognition.  Others feel isolated, pessimistic, and cynical.  Clearly, the University will not have the resources necessary to develop every department or program on campus.  However, it can and should identify existing and potential areas of strength, especially those with the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration and those that take advantage of the unique resources in New Mexico, and differentially allocate resources to these programs.  This would not only enhance existing areas of strength, it would expand the possibilities for other faculty to affiliate with productive scholars in these areas.

 Concerning the University’s infrastructure and resources for research and teaching, the picture is again mixed.  Some Departments benefit from relatively large overhead accounts that can be used to purchase research equipment, computers, travel to professional meetings, office supplies and teaching materials.  Other departments are severely disadvantaged in this regard.  This creates a difficult environment in which to work and contributes to poor faculty morale.  The recent financial difficulties in the Office of Research have contributed to these problems.  Because of budget deficits in that office, department and college overhead accounts have been taxed, matching funds for grant proposals have been eliminated, start-up funds have been greatly reduced, and funds for special projects are unavailable.

 We have already commented on UNM’s academic reputation and the uneven quality of UNM’s student population.  This is a source of frustration for many faculty, especially for those on the main and branches.  The administration is encouraged to continue its efforts to do what it can in this regard, but the reality is that this situation is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

 The question of the faculty’s role in the governance of the University is difficult to assess.  There are faculty who prefer to be left alone to do their work and would rather not concern themselves with university politics at any level.  Others who seek a more active role seem relatively satisfied with the responsive of the administration to faculty input.  Still others are very frustrated with what they perceive to be an unresponsive administration and the erosion of faculty influence in the governance of the University.  The protest by some faculty of the present strategic planning process and the recently increased interest in faculty organization and even unionization are cases in point.  Unlike the problem of inadequate compensation and resources, a clear consensus on this issue is difficult to discern.  We would, however, advise the administration to be mindful of these issues and to fully involve the faculty in the implementation of the initiatives resulting from this strategic planning effort as well as the governance of the university in general.

  So, how does UNM stack up with respect to what good faculty want?  As usual the answer is mixed, but at the general level, the answer seems to be not particularly well.

Faculty Development.  Faculty development should be an on-going process that is shared by the central administration, the college or school, and the department.  Plans for faculty development will vary across departments and programs, but a few general recommendations can be made.  At the outset, new faculty must be provided with adequate start-up costs to get their research programs up and running.  They should be provided with adequate computers, funds to assist their professional travel, and matching funds to apply for extramural funding where appropriate.  New faculty should attend a detailed orientation program that informs them of the services available through the Office of Research, the libraries, Instructional Media, and other relevant departments and offices on campus.  The orientation should include a discussion of teaching and provide new faculty with important information concerning teaching resources, expectations, pitfalls, and solutions.  At the department level, the development of new faculty should be an explicit goal.  New faculty should be provided with teaching and research mentors, and senior faculty should be available for discussions about teaching and research issues.  Chairs should provide new faculty with clear tenure and promotion guidelines. Preferably, these guidelines should be written.  When possible, teaching loads should be phased in, and new preparations should be minimized to one or two courses per semester.

As faculty move beyond their first few years, it is important that they continue to receive the resources necessary to keep their research and teaching moving ahead.  Funds to replace or repair aging computers, to purchase teaching supplies and to continue their research efforts should be provided.  Faculty should continue to meet regularly with their chairs to discuss their progress, problems and achievements.  Perhaps most importantly, faculty achievements should be recognized and rewarded.  As they move beyond their first few years, faculty should become increasingly involved in the policy and decision making processes at the department, college or school, and university levels.  Shared governance is not just a lofty ideal; it is a way of engendering a sense of investment and commitment to the University that can enhance both faculty development and retention.

Department chairs play a particularly important role in faculty development, yet there is virtually no training or information available to department chairs to assist them in this regard.  By and large, they are simply left to their own resources.  As a result, there is considerable variability across departments in the investment and effectiveness of department chairs in facilitating faculty development and some lag time in learning how to do it.  Given the critically important role that chairs play in faculty development, the University should provide them with some training or information about how to facilitate the development of their faculty.
Another issue that pertains to faculty development as well as to faculty retention and academic stature is the quality of the faculty hired at UNM and their ability to take advantage of existing and potential areas of strength.  Academic units should be careful to hire faculty with the clear potential to add to the academic quality of their academic units and those who can contribute to and profit from collaborations with existing faculty.  Academic programs should be rewarded for attempting to hire faculty who complement the strategic planning initiatives, and they should be allowed to retain their lines if they fail to hire in a given year because suitable candidates fails to emerge.

Faculty Recruitment.  UNM has several advantages with respect to faculty recruitment.  These include an attractive location and climate, opportunities to work with diverse and specialized populations, a wide range of academic disciplines, a number of high-tech and scientific research centers, and a number of excellent faculty and academic programs.  It also has some disadvantages, not the least of which is a chronic lack of adequate funding and a poor state economy.  In fact, the lack of adequate funding has significantly impaired our ability to recruit new faculty.  Across the various colleges (but excluding the SOM), 39 offers of employment were rejected in the past two years because of inadequate compensation or inadequate research support.  Hardest hit where the Colleges of Engineering (15) and Arts and Sciences (10).  If UNM wants to attract first-rate faculty it simply must increase the amount compensation and research support that it offers new faculty.
 One important way that UNM can increase its chances of recruiting new faculty is through fund raising and development efforts.  Although UNM has made some progress in this area, endowments and private donations are relatively low compared to many of our peer and neighboring institutions.  Including the recently announced Prince Asturias Endowed Chair, UNM currently has only three endowed chairs, two of which are unfilled.  There are several named professorships, but all but one of these are either in the Anderson Schools or the School of Law.  Clearly there needs to be an increase in the number of these positions as a way to reward outstanding faculty who are already here and to recruit outstanding faculty we would like to have here.

As a way of dealing with the financial difficulties that have plagued us for the past several years, the University has tended to replace retiring and resigning full professors with beginning assistant professors.  Obviously, this is a good way to save some money, but it has taken its toll on the academic stature of the relevant departments and the University as a whole.  A related issue is that the process by which hiring lines are allocated to departments seems unrelated to the quality of those departments or the accomplishments of the departing faculty member.  Of course, given the number of unfilled faculty lines across the university, many departments have acute hiring needs.  Still, faculty lines are one of the resources the university makes available to departments, and consideration should be given to prioritizing these on the basis of the contributions, accomplishments and stature of academic units.

Faculty Retention.  Simply stated, UNM has lost and is continuing to lose an alarming number of faculty to other research institutions and universities.  Particularly distressing are the names of the faculty who have left.  These were core members of the faculty, including two members of the National Academy of Sciences, a number of senior scholars with international reputations, and junior faculty with exceptional promise.  Most of these individuals left to accept better paying positions, but other factors including academic reputation, research opportunities, quality of students, relationship between the university and the state legislature, and future prospects for growth and improvement were also mentioned as factors that figured in their decision to leave.

 It seems clear that if the university wants to retain its best faculty, it needs to give them reasons to stay.  Climate and geography are obviously not enough.  Good faculty need to be compensated appropriately, recognized and rewarded for their accomplishments, and to be part of exciting and dynamic programs.  These are good reasons to stay.  If we assume that the financial picture is not likely to improve substantially in the near future, the University has no choice but to identify those areas in which it wants to preserve, enhance, or achieve academic excellence and to differentially allocate resources accordingly.  We are mindful that a zero-sum game is demoralizing for all, but the alternative, across the board allocations of inadequate resources, will ensure the continued exodus of good faculty and perpetual academic mediocrity.  Parenthetically, when we speak of resources, we specifically mean to include salary increases, faculty lines, equipment, space, travel funds, and GA/TA lines.  The difficulty with respect to the reallocation of resources will be to do it in a way that meaningfully.

 Although the academic stature of the university and its academic programs is hurt by the failure to retain good faculty, it is also hurt when it retains less qualified faculty.  This raises the difficult and controversial issue of tenure standards.  While many on campus feel that our current tenure standards are adequately high, others point to the very high percentage of positive tenure decisions and suggest that the standards are too low.  Tenure standards vary across departments and programs, and, although the data have not been collected, it is our guess that there is some relation between the quality of the department and its standards for tenure.  Although we have no general recommendations to make in this regard, we do think that tenure standards are an important consideration in the context of academic stature.
Branch Campuses.  Many of the problems facing main campus faculty seem to be exacerbated at the branch campuses.  Faculty salaries are even lower than on main campus and the teaching loads (5 courses per semester plus 7 hours of required office hours per week) are enormous.  This has made it very difficult to recruit and retain good faculty, and many leave for positions with higher compensation.  Added to this is the fact that the range of courses offered by the branch campuses is quite small.  Although the branch campuses emphasize teaching and do not require their faculty to be involved in research, many branch campus faculty are nevertheless interested in research and often leave for positions with more research opportunities.  An informal survey of some of the branch campus faculty produced the following suggestions for enhancing recruitment and retention at the branch campuses: 1) Increase salaries to competitive levels; 2) Decrease teaching loads for those interested in conducting research; 2) Offer at least one semester sabbaticals for faculty research involvement and opportunities to develop teaching skills; 3) Offer joint appointments with appropriate main campus departments to facilitate research involvement and collaborations with main campus faculty; 4) Allow branch campus faculty the opportunity to teach at least one course per semester on main campus in an effort to increase the diversity of students in their courses and to facilitate interactions between main campus and branch campus departments; 5) Increase the number of 200 level courses to provide more variety in teaching loads and allow more students to take these courses at the branch campuses; 6) Provide funds for teaching workshops to update and enhance teaching strategies; and 7) Provide some benefits, such as faculty rates for health insurance, for adjunct faculty as a way of enhancing their retention.