But these professorships are waiting in limbo for the state to match the required funding.
Some professors don’t know that they’ve been selected for a distinguished title and won’t be informed until the funding becomes available. Other distinguished professorships are ready to be established and used as a recruiting tool for outside faculty.
But the backlog has continued to grow — and $34 million in state funding is needed to completely eliminate it.
In its budget request, the UNC-system Board of Governors asked for $8 million to fund more distinguished professorships and help eliminate the backlog.
The board’s $8 million request in non-recurring funds would add to the $8 million in recurring funds that the system receives each year for the program.
Distinguished professors’ funds can be salary supplements used to support their professional responsibilities, such as travel, stipends for teaching and research assistants and special equipment or books needed for teaching.
Those chosen as distinguished professors do not have access to the entire fund and are only given the interest from the endowment, which can total up to $2 million.
Hans Paerl, a UNC-CH distinguished professor of marine sciences, said he has used the funds to travel, attend conferences and visit colleagues to develop international programs and grants.
“Those endowments have been very good in terms of developing new research avenues and also large projects that help support the graduate students, technicians and the (UNC marine sciences) institute overall,” Paerl said. “It’s more than paid for itself in terms of benefits that the University has gotten.”
When the system lacks funding to finance a distinguished professorship, the chosen professor is not notified of the honor but is put into a queue until the state funds become available.
Once the state matches the privately raised funds, the professor is notified of his or her new position.
The Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, which finances distinguished professorships in the UNC system, matches privately raised dollars at each institution with state funds to provide money for those chosen to be distinguished professors.
The fund matches state dollars with private money — $1 for every $2 — for institutions such as UNC-CH, North Carolina State University and East Carolina University.
At schools that might have difficulties raising private funds, the state matches every dollar privately raised.
But the state has lagged in matching dollars.
“In particular, Chapel Hill is effective and very good at raising funds, and could potentially request (from the state) the $1 for every $2 that they’ve raised,” said Chris Brown, the system’s vice president for research and graduate education. “Over the years, the General Assembly has not provided the amount enough to match all the private dollars that have been raised.”
Since 2009, the system backlog of distinguished professorships has increased by 27 positions.
The Board of Governors’ committee on personnel and tenure recommended that the board continue to seek recurring funding and supplemental non-recurring funding to help eliminate the backlog.
The N.C. General Assembly will consider the board’s budget proposal during the short session this summer and make adjustments, if necessary, to the system’s funding.
State Budget Director Art Pope had sent the original proposed budget back to the Board of Governors in late February. In the board’s revised request, officials cut nearly $74 million from the initial budget but still included the $8 million request for distinguished professorships.
“The board recognizes the importance of excellent faculty,” Brown said.
Professors earn the distinction on the basis of scholarship in their field.
Jim Dean, UNC-CH’s executive vice chancellor and provost, said distinguished professorships allow the University to honor those who have achieved a high level of excellence.
“Having distinguished professors is one of the hallmarks of a great university,” Dean said. “They help to support the academic mission of the university.”
But the backlog of distinguished professorships — and the large amount of private funds that are still waiting for state matched funds — raises concerns their future.
“A risk, which hasn’t happened yet, is you have a donor who donated money some years ago and has never seen that funding come to fruition in a distinguished professorship (and) could become disgruntled,” Brown said.
Dean said professors exist within a marketplace.
“We constantly have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our faculty ... especially those who are the most successful and most marketable, and this is one way that helps,” Dean said.