UNC needs to do more to ensure it is creating a supportive and enriching environment for faculty success and retention, or it risks losing its status as a premier public institution. After two years of plunging in the faculty resource rankings, from 35th to 59th, it’s time for the University administration to act.
Last week, U.S. News and World Report released its rankings report of national universities. While UNC saw its overall ranking increase by one, to 29th, it saw its ranking for faculty resources fall 12 spots. This decline comes on the heels of last year’s ranking, which also saw UNC drop 12 spots from 35th to 47th. Why?
Faculty retention and class size are two of the biggest reasons.
As the University has had to absorb significant budget cuts in the past two years, faculty compensation and smaller courses have suffered significantly. These factors account for 65 percent of UNC’s score in the rankings and now are at levels that threaten UNC’s ability to remain competitive for both top faculty and students. And the outlook for improvement in the near term remains bleak.
Faculty retention for a public institution is difficult even during the best of times, but the recent economic downturn has hit UNC’s ability to retain top faculty particularly hard. Last year, only 37 percent of faculty considering offers at other institutions chose to stay at UNC. These failing results come despite the aid of a $10 million dollar fund established to help UNC retain top faculty, which is now near empty. This brain-drain of more than 70 of the University’s best and brightest is likely to take millions of dollars and years, if not decades, to repair.
University administrators should take a holistic view of UNC’s faculty resources, identify key weaknesses, and look for innovative and cost-effective ways to make the University more attractive to faculty, as budgets are likely to keep faculty compensation tight in the near term. On the same token, faculty members wishing to stay at UNC must be understanding of the University’s position and stop attempting to game the system’s reserve funds for incremental raises.
While unfortunate, these declines are not entirely unexpected and are highly correlated to the impact of state budget cuts on public universities’ operating budgets in the past two years. During this period, the College of William and Mary, University of California-Berkeley, Michigan and Illinois have also seen their ranking drop compared to private institutions, but UNC seems to be one of the most severely affected.
Chancellor Holden Thorp and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney have largely succeeded in protecting UNC’s academic core during these challenging times, making tough choices. But if something is not done to protect the world-class faculty and small classroom settings that define a UNC education shortly, we risk losing the things that give UNC its distinct identity.