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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dedicated fund helps keep faculty retention rates on the rise

Ron Strauss

The key to keeping a university great is keeping a great faculty.

That idea is simple enough, Executive Vice Provost and Chief International Officer Ron Strauss said, but to do it requires unceasing vigilance.

That’s because every year, some of Carolina’s peer institutions make lucrative offers to lure away some of its faculty members. And every year, a handful of Carolina’s faculty members accept those offers and leave, in spite of efforts to retain them.

“What’s changed is that now there is a dedicated source of funds to do retentions with,” Strauss said.

“The deans know to come to me right away when a faculty member has received an outside offer,” Strauss said. “We are fast. We are ready to respond.”

This quicker, nimbler approach has yielded measurably better results.

For instance, the retention success rate for tenured and tenure-track faculty in 2002–03 academic year was 30 percent. By 2015–16, (the most recent year statistics were available) the retention rate had climbed to 79 percent, with the University losing only 11 tenured and tenure-track faculty members to outside universities, including three as a result of failed retentions.

The worst year for failed retentions (when a faculty member who gets a counter offer leaves anyway) was in 2010-11 when the University lost 78 tenured and tenure-track faculty, including 46 to failed retentions.

“The ready availability of funds has made a huge difference in this ongoing effort,“ Strauss said. The Provost’s fund committed $271,200 in 2015–16 to retain eight faculty members in Health Affairs and $130,166 to retain 12 faculty members in Academic Affairs. An additional $110,449 was received from General Administration to retain six other faculty members.

The 2015–16 numbers also reveal that the University has been just as aggressive on offense as it has defense – by hiring away top faculty from other peer institutions. That year, a total of 94 faculty were recruited to Carolina; 76 were tenure-track faculty and 18 were tenured.

“We have driven down the number of departures, and at the same time, we are hiring aggressively,” Strauss said. “While money to make quick counter-offers is vital, no amount of money accounts for the intangibles that draw faculty members to a campus like Carolina in the first place,” Strauss said.

“Many faculty members really want to work here; and once they do, few want to leave.

“High-quality faculty recruitment is the name of the game, but so is retention. We invest in the people who come here. We do start-up packages. We help them to become acculturated. We help them to thrive. We don’t want to see them leave so we have to start all over again.

“But also, we don’t view Carolina as a short-term destination. Some universities see themselves as revolving doors. People come in and go out. I meet with new faculty at the start of the academic year and one of my messages is: ‘Welcome to Carolina where you can have a career.’”

Not all tenure-track faculty members who come to Carolina earn tenure, of course. And even after they do, the University has put in place a robust post-tenure review that not all universities have.

“It means we are continuing to invest in the quality of our faculty even after they have been tenured. There is no coasting after tenure. Tenure on this campus is not an opportunity to slow down and ease back, it is an opportunity to deepen and commit.”

“And it’s wonderful to see them do it. Our tenured faculty remain highly productive and you can see that in their research, their teaching loads and their campus engagement.”

Getting a position at Carolina will always be challenging, Strauss said. Succeeding here will never be easy.

“But for the faculty members who are in it for the long run, there is no better place to be,” Strauss said.