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UT lacks members of elite academy

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    The University of Toledo’s immediate goal is to boost and stabilize its enrollment numbers before investing in adding vaunted academics to its faculty.

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Just four years after the United States declared independence from Great Britain, a few of the fledgling nation’s founders formed a society where the best and brightest could exchange ideas.

The illustrious names, among them John Adams and John Hancock, launched the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780. Over the centuries, the learned and elite circle expanded to include George Washington, Daniel Webster, and Albert Einstein.

The academy recently announced its 236th class, growing the total membership to 4,895 fellows and 597 foreign honorary members.

Every Ivy League school boasts members. Harvard University has the most of any university with 419, and Yale University has 162.

Closer to home, the University of Michigan has 77.

Only four Ohio schools have an academy member. Ohio State University leads with 16, Case Western Reserve University has three, and the Cleveland Institute of Music and Kent State University each have one.

Missing from those vaunted ranks are representatives from most of the state’s public and private schools, including the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.

The two local universities also don’t have faculty who belong to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, three other exclusive institutions where membership marks one of academia’s highest honors.

Since arriving in July, UT President Sharon Gaber has declared a renewed emphasis on bolstering the reputation of the university, unranked by U.S. News and World Report. She believes outstanding faculty — members of academies and winners of awards and fellowships — is one key to that success.

“We need to build up faculty and make sure we have faculty who are applying for prestigious awards,” she said. “Clearly we are at least paying attention to it. It’s a start.”

High-profile professors in an “elite club” garner national speaking invitations and money for cutting-edge research, Ms. Gaber said. Students, in turn, learn from top-notch minds.

But recruiting big-name hires takes big bucks and the right set of circumstances. An enticing offer may require the university to invest in labs and equipment, hire research scientists, offer a reduced teaching load, and cover additional expenses.

“A national academy member costs more than other faculty members,” Ms. Gaber said.

Doing the math

The median salary for UT’s 272 tenured and tenure-track faculty members who have achieved the highest rank of professor is $109,267, while the median pay for the 15 tenure-track faculty members hired so far for the next academic year is $62,000.

Compare that with the $239,508 salary of an Ohio State math professor hired by OSU years after his admission to the American Academy and National Academy of Sciences. Another OSU math professor, recruited in 2008 after he became an American Academy fellow in 2006, makes $195,356. Kent State’s lone American Academy fellow, a biological anthropologist also elected to the science academy during his long career at Kent, makes $82,400.

Ms. Gaber wants two years of enrollment gains and a stable budget before she thinks about investments such as major faculty hires. After last fall’s lower-than-projected student count, she announced $600,000 in operating budget cuts this year and an estimated $8.7 million overall budget reduction for the fiscal year beginning in July.

“Getting our financial footings sort of solidly set, that’s goal No. 1 — making sure we are doing great things and providing a great quality education. And, then, we think about all of the other elements of increasing our reputation and moving up in the rankings,” Ms. Gaber said.

A strategic planning process expected to begin next academic year will focus partly on identifying specific areas where star faculty could strengthen already robust programs. The medical college, the former Medical College of Ohio, is one place where UT could recruit outstanding faculty, aided by millions in academic support payments the university will receive from its affiliation agreement with ProMedica.

Last month, UT announced it hired a chair for the department of medicine who will recruit new physicians. Dr. Lance Dworkin, who comes from Brown University and studied at Yale and University of Pennsylvania, will make $410,000 a year.

UT could take a couple different approaches to recruiting prominent faculty. Ms. Gaber said it could try to hire academy members whose connections could bring attention to other faculty members. Current academy members vote on who will be admitted to their organizations.

The university also could seek those with the potential to flourish and whose scholarship could lead to major recognition after they come to Toledo.

“The general theory that you invest in some group of individuals who have early promise and then think about how you nurture them is probably the safer bet,” Ms. Gaber said.

Attracting the learned

Most Ohio universities are not in a financial position to hire National Academy members, though many could afford to hire mid-to-high level faculty with impressive credentials, said James Blank, dean of Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Many acclaimed faculty are happy where they are, which is one reason they’re so successful, he said. Universities trying to convince them to move must offer intangibles, such as the time and freedom to pursue their scholarship.

In-state schools can look for people who grew up here and want to return home or to an alma mater.

“I know it’s going to sound strange, because we always beat ourselves up. Ohio is an attraction for people,” said Mr. Blank. “It’s economical to live here ... the dollar stretches so much further. The lifestyle is safer. There’s a lot of things about Ohio that people miss.”

Both UT and BGSU’s presidents point to their faculty success, which they measure through memberships in discipline-specific societies and other awards. UT has increased the number of Fulbright winners and is proud of junior faculty who receive National Science Foundation awards, an achievement that marks early-career success and makes them a target for other universities to try to poach. BGSU touts its recent Guggenheim fellows, among other faculty achievements.

Bowling Green President Mary Ellen Mazey said the money needed to pay salaries, build labs, and hire graduate assistants is one reason BGSU and its peers don’t have members in the top academies. BGSU tied for 185th place among national universities, according to U.S. News rankings.

“Recruitment is important,” she said, adding that the university looks for faculty who have won awards and received other recognition when making hiring decisions.

BGSU concentrates on hiring those with external research funding and who will strengthen undergraduate programs, she said. Many times, those who are working on and recognized for top research aren’t teaching undergraduate students, a core part of the school’s mission.

“The elite mathematicians, it is hard for them to come down to the level of a freshman,” Ms. Mazey said.

Some places set aside money to recruit world-class faculty. Last year, the Texas governor backed an initiative aimed at propelling the state’s public universities and colleges to the top of national rankings. Texas allocated about $40 million in general fund revenue for matching grants to help its institutions attract Nobel Laureates and National Academy members — membership in the American Academy alone would not qualify. The first hires will be announced soon.

The Ohio legislature’s recent efforts have prioritized college affordability and access while promoting commercialization of university-developed research, said Jeff Robinson, the state’s higher education department spokesman.

Tuition freezes and cost-saving measures emerged as a focus, not the recruitment of superstars, to its universities.

From 1983 to 2007, the Ohio Eminent Scholars program awarded 51 endowments using nearly $33.8 million in state funding to recruit senior scholars from outside the state. BGSU was among institutions to receive funding.

In 2008, the funding folded into another higher education program with a wider research and economic scope than just recruitment of academic stars.

Other key qualities

Professorial prestige didn’t factor as a top consideration when Cody Spoon, 21, chose to attend UT. The chemical engineering major from McComb, Ohio, said faculty awards and honoraries may weigh more heavily for students interested in research, but he looked at internship opportunities.

Most of the professors he’s had during his three years at UT have shown a genuine interest in him and exceeded his expectations. Their work is impressive “regardless of any national awards,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a UT engineering faculty member in one of those societies in five to 10 years,” said Mr. Spoon, who recently completed a term as student government president.

Likewise, Lucy Frank, a 21-year-old honors college student from Wauseon, has been “very satisfied” with her UT professors. She cited two assistant professors of political science, both hired last year, who have been particularly helpful and quoted frequently by news outlets about current events. One of them will help with her honors thesis.

The personal attention, combined with a scholarship and her alumni parents, drew her to UT, where she’s studying political science and French. Ms. Frank has interned in the Toledo mayor’s office, studied abroad in France, and will attend this summer’s Democratic National Convention.

Hiring prestigious faculty is “wonderful,” she said, but “right now, having a professor that is doing all research and no teaching — that doesn’t necessarily help me now.”

UT’s faculty senate would support Ms. Gaber if her vision includes recruiting prominent individuals, said the group’s president, Mary Humphrys, an associate professor in the business college’s department of applied organizational technology.

The faculty senate is primarily focused on the overall student experience, which she said might be enhanced by such hires.

Because UT has many colleges and programs, noted faculty could bring expertise not just to their fields but offer beneficial learning opportunities for students in multiple disciplines, she said.

“I think, at this point, the university is much more in a position of growing stars from within the current faculty ranks than we would probably be able to afford attracting people who are nationally renowned,” she said.

In addition to hiring and nurturing distinguished faculty, Ms. Gaber wants UT to improve in other core areas, such as graduation and retention rates, which affect many rankings. Just 20 percent of first-time, full-time students who started at the university in 2009 graduated within four years; 41 percent graduated within six. Numbers drop significantly for some minority groups.

“If I hire someone from Harvard, and they’re a rock star ... that’s a great thing,” she said. “If I don’t improve our graduation rates, I’m still in trouble.”

Still, she believes UT can and should do both.

“It’s not something that we have probably paid enough attention to previously, and now we are focusing on it,” she said. “We can help our students, and we can increase the reputation of the university. They’re not mutually exclusive. We can do both, and that’s what lots of great institutions do.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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