Faculty Plan Puts a Premium on Hiring Top Multidisciplinary Scholars


Preventing violence in young adults. Finding resilient solutions to environmental change. Learning more about how the brain works, from autism to traumatic injury. All are major issues of our time – and all are among the areas in which the University of Virginia is seeking to hire outstanding faculty in the next few years.

Other areas of emphasis include design thinking, data science and global markets.

UVA’s plan to hire faculty in strategic, collaborative areas of research and scholarship involves nine schools whose deans submitted proposals for interdisciplinary faculty positions that build on academic strengths and focus on increasingly important social and scientific issues. The program is part of an aggressive five-year campaign the Board of Visitors approved last fall.

After President Teresa A. Sullivan asked the deans to collaborate in submitting proposals for hiring additional tenured and tenure-track faculty members, a committee of vice provosts and University Professors reviewed requests for 54 positions and approved 20 joint-hire searches.

In addition, another new initiative on “Target of Opportunity” searches will pursue 11 highly sought-after top scholars and researchers. These would be individuals who are not on the job market but would add to UVA’s faculty excellence if successfully recruited here.

The hiring initiatives are part of UVA’s need to replenish the faculty ranks, as well as its goal to remove obstacles to interdisciplinary hiring, increasing opportunities to assemble a high-quality, diverse faculty. The University, along with other institutions of higher education, is in the midst of a dramatic generational turnover in faculty that began several years ago and is projected to continue for at least the next five years.

“This is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to build the University’s faculty for its third century and to shape UVA’s intellectual future,” Sullivan said. “In addition, it presents an opportunity for us to enhance the diversity of our faculty.”

The interdisciplinary emphasis is an important indicator of the University’s future direction.

“This first group of 20 faculty hiring proposals showed strong partnerships across schools and will build on strategic areas for growth, adding new faculty who will develop research and scholarship at the University,” Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas C. Katsouleas said.

“The approach is both strategic and opportunistic, and I am optimistic about the quality and diversity it will bring to the University,” he said.

Senior Vice Provost J. Milton Adams added, “We have to compete nationally, and in some cases, internationally.” Himself a professor of both biomedical and electrical and computer engineering, Adams is coordinating the implementation of the University’s strategic planning process, the Cornerstone Plan.

That effort required analyzing the make-up of the faculty and assessing the issue of high numbers of professors retiring.

Administrators in the provost’s office looked at the age demographics of tenured faculty, making their first projection in 2011 on how many professors might retire in the next decade and updating it last year, using 68 as the representative age of retirement.  The number of retirees doubled two years ago compared to the prior average, Adams said. The number of faculty leaving includes resignations as well as retirements.

“People are always coming and going, but the numbers have increased substantially,” Adams pointed out.

In addition to tenured and tenure-track faculty – those who are expected to be world-class scholars and researchers, plus inspiring and engaging teachers – non-tenure-track faculty are hired with varying expectations. Some are hired as researchers primarily through grants, especially in the sciences and engineering.

Another group of non-tenure-track faculty are hired, usually on three-year contracts, as full-time, salaried instructors, especially teaching courses that students take in their first two years. All Ph.D.s, they usually have heavier teaching loads than tenure-track faculty, but are not expected to conduct research and scholarship.

Clinicians in the School of Medicine make up a subset of this group; they teach medical students in the hospital and have varied responsibilities.

In the last two years, the University has hired 481 new faculty members in all categories, Adams said. 

In addition to the strategic hires, UVA plans to hire 105 new tenured and tenure-track professors each year for the next five years, plus an additional 20 new faculty each year to accommodate enrollment growth, he said. He estimated that three-quarters of the new hires will be assistant professors. These figures don’t include non-tenure-track faculty.

Expectations will be high for hiring top faculty into the 20 newly approved interdisciplinary positions, Katsouleas said. If not all of the positions can be filled, they will carry over to next year. 

A few examples show how UVA schools are partnering in their proposals and faculty searches.

Arts & Sciences will join forces with the Darden School of Business, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the McIntire School of Commerce, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the Data Science Institute in filling two positions in cloud-scale data analytics. The Engineering School also will partner with the School of Medicine to hire one or two individuals focusing on biomedical data science.

Medicine, Engineering and the Curry School of Education will collaborate with Arts & Sciences to fill up to five positions in neuroscience, traumatic brain injury and autism spectrum disorders.

To approach the generational turnover from a position of strength, UVA – backed by the Board of Visitors – intends to improve the average faculty salary at each faculty rank with a target of moving up to the 20th position among its Association of American Universities peers. UVA ranked 28th as of 2014-15.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications