Univ. working to retain faculty, faces financial challenges

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October 11, 2019

Brandeis is working toward accommodating suitable faculty salaries that match peer institutions in the Association of American Universities (AAU), according to a self-study published by the university in September 2018. The self-study also focuses on university challenges in hiring and retaining faculty members.

In the study, Brandeis examines their faculty, learning and scholarship as part of the university’s accreditation process through the New England Commissions of Higher Education (NECHE). The sixth standard of nine NECHE standards focuses on professorship at Brandeis and opportunities for various faculty members. 

This section of the study’s focus ranges from grants to diversity to Brandeis’ financial challenges in recruiting and retaining faculty. 

“Generally what you’ll hear across the board is that we aren’t as well-compensated or supported as colleges and some other institutions, but that it’s still a pretty great place to work,” said Faculty Senate Chair and Professor Joel Christensen ’01 (CLAS) in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.


Standard VI: Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship

Faculty Salaries and Costs

One area of concern for the self-study was faculty salaries, which have dropped “significantly below the averages for AAU institutions,” reads the self-study. 

High costs of living in Massachusetts—including high costs of child care—also present obstacles to faculty members, said Christensen, who spoke about the experiences of faculty in his department.

“We hire someone out of grad school and our pay and benefits look great,” Christensen said in the interview. “But then they move here, and their first shock is that we’re one of the two or three most expensive markets in the country, and our salary is mid-line if not lower. They have children and realize that our child care costs here are through the roof and our housing costs are really high, so it’s almost impossible for faculty members to afford a house here and send their kids to school.”

The Brandeis Faculty Senate has discussed high housing and childcare costs, said Christensen, and the university administration and the Board of Trustees are working on plans to help faculty better afford these costs. Endowed chairs—which have dedicated endowment funds—also help support professors and can cut down on pay gaps at Brandeis, said Christensen.

“I think over the long run, the problem is going to be getting and retaining,” Christensen said, “because we do have aging infrastructure…[and] with the cost of living in Massachusetts not going down any time in the foreseeable future, we’re not going to be able to compete with institutions for the same people.”

One of the university’s main priorities is to bring the salaries of not tenured, junior faculty “up to par,” reads the study. The average salaries for these faculty are not comparable to other AAU institutions, according to the self-study. 

Recruitment and Retention

Most searches for new faculty members begin at the junior level to help with their professional development to meet the standards of tenure-track professors. 

“Fully matching outside offers is often more than we can do, so we rely on a combination of an increase in salary and other incentives, with generally good results,” reads the study. 

 Another priority for the university is the retention of outstanding faculty, according to the self-study.

These “outstanding faculty” members are oftentimes “emerging stars” in their field according to the self-study. These faculty members have made a name for themselves in their respective fields but still have a lot of time for professional development. 

“We strive to maintain an academic atmosphere that allows young faculty to flourish… but we need to provide salaries that will reduce the temptation to look elsewhere and diminish the lure of unsolicited outside offers,” reads the study.

Brandeis lost eight out of 26 faculty members in the Arts and Sciences who received offers, two out of seven in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and three out of four in the International Business School (IBS) to offers from peer institutions from 2010 to 2016, reads the self-study. 

“We’ve lost several faculty in the last few years because institutions can pay more and because they are in areas where housing is a lot cheaper,” said Christensen, citing Brown and Yale as examples. “That’s something that’s a real problem, and it’s both a problem for hiring top talent but its [also] a huge problem for keeping them,” he continued.

Brandeis aspires to enlarge the faculty, according to the self-study. The university is waiting on a “capital campaign” that will allow them to create new professorships and expand academic facilities. The capital campaign will be able to add more money to the budget for faculty salaries and bridge the gap between associate and full professors. 

Christensen said facilities and faculty workload can also present incentives to take competing offers. But many faculty, said Christensen, enjoy their work at Brandeis and are inclined to remain because of a connection to Brandeis’ mission. 

Christensen, who attended Brandeis as an undergraduate, said there wasn’t a number he could be offered to leave because of his strong connection to the university’s mission. 

Faculty Diversity

Brandeis is working toward diversifying the faculty and hiring younger professors and plans for a significant number of retirements in the next 10 years. The self-study states that 43 percent of faculty are over the age of 60 and almost 30 percent are over 65. 

The university is working on improving faculty gender balance and has seen a positive shift in the male to female faculty ratio, with women representing 43 percent, according to the study. The university is also working to increase the number of faculty underrepresented minorities, which make up five percent of faculty members. 

Faculty diversity, said Christensen, is important to support and grow, but to do so without placing heavier burdens on faculty of color. 

“As a community, we say we value diverse opinions,” said Christensen. “We want input from people of color… that means that a small number of people we have are expected or asked to serve in many more capacities than they would if they were not people of color. That undue service burden, and the emotional burden of mentoring students is something that’s been documented at most universities.” 

Grants and Sponsorship

Tenure-track science faculty receive “start-up packages” for their labs and all other tenure-track faculty in Arts and Sciences receive an annual grant for research and travel. Faculty were given $4,000 during the 2017-2018 school year. 

Over the past three years (2015-2018), 59 grants have been given out, totalling $714,000. The study stated that recipients of the grant in their first three years have received over $5 million in external funding to support their sponsored projects. 

There is also an endowed fund for faculty for smaller grants of $3,500 per year. The Sprout and Spark Programs—for scientific research and other disciplines respectively—are another source of funding, which is overseen by the Office of Technology Licensing. Depending on the department of a faculty member, grants and scholarships vary in importance, said Christensen.

“The difference is that it’s field specific,” said Christensen. “I don’t need very much research; I just need some time. But other programs… need a lot more funds to do what they do, and Brandeis doesn’t necessarily have the same support for getting grants that other institutions do.”

“I do think Brandeis is trying to do better as far as giving regular wages and regular opportunities for research funding,” Christensen continued. 

Brandeis also receives funding for research from external sources, averaging more than $60 million per year according to the self-study. The Heller School for Social Policy alone receives $15 million a year in various social science grants. 

Faculty Responsibilities

Out of the 431 faculty members on campus, 81 percent of them are within the School of Arts and Sciences. Through this, the university is able to maintain a 10 to one student-professor ratio at the undergraduate level. And 83 percent, or 350, of the faculty members are full-time. Christensen added that more than half of faculty members are tenure-line faculty.

Each year, faculty members are required to go through an annual review process, which allows the university to see what they have accomplished over the past year through faculty activity reports. The chair of each department then reviews the reports and submits recommendations to the dean for potential raises. 

Teaching loads for professors vary depending on what type of professor they are. Tenure-track faculty do not teach more than two courses per semester, unless they are in the theater arts or studio art programs. Full-time contract faculty members are required to teach five classes each academic year.

While all Brandeis faculty members may be called professors, they can have very different compensation packages depending on their contracts, said Christensen. 

Tenured faculty members are also able to take a sabbatical (one semester at full pay or two semesters at half pay) after every 12 semesters of service on campus. Full-time contract faculty also have these benefits, initially after 14 semesters of teaching and then every 12 semesters afterwards, according to the self-study. 

This is the fourth part in a series looking into the self-study.

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