University officials have unveiled the Illinois Strategic Excellence Hiring Program, a search initiative designed to seek out and find the top academic talent - then bring it back to the UI.
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"We know we have strategic needs and there are holes in certain areas we need to fill," said Barbara Wilson, vice provost for academic affairs. "With this new program, we've got the capacity to make some strategic and significant hiring."
The new faculty hiring program will build on what the university has learned from the successes and the limitations of the current Faculty Excellence Program, which allows academic units to target specific, high profile educators for recruitment - without going through a lengthy search process.
Wilson said the Faculty Excellence Program, also administered by the provost's office, won't be entirely phased out, but the hiring emphasis will be shifted to the new hiring program.
"The university has benefited greatly from appointments made through the Faculty Excellence Program over the past several years," said Richard Wheeler, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. "This new program will allow us to extend that success in areas of strategic importance to the campus."
Wilson said the new program will be focused on strategic goals established by the university that include the following "cluster" areas:
- Information, technology and society.
- Human health and wellness.
- Energy and sustainability.
- Culture, communication and global issues.
"We need to be thinking more strategically," she said, "so it's really designed around 'What are our campus' strengths?' We asked, 'What is the UI known for nationally and internationally?' "
Proposals may come from any campus unit as long as they have been vetted at the college level and have support of the relevant dean. The proposal is then considered by a committee consisting of the Provost's Advisory Group, the dean of the Graduate College and the vice chancellor for research.
Wilson said special consideration would be given to proposals that fall into the cluster categories and those that offer interdisciplinary collaboration and new curriculum development.
"They (academic leaders on the review committee) will be asked to think about how to maximize opportunities in these areas," she said, which means the process will become a platform for new ideas and innovation. "We don't know what the proposals are going to look like."
A new-position proposal will be assessed using the following criteria:
- Does it enhance institutional strengths and reputation?
- Does it advance respective unit goals?
- Does it contribute to the educational mission of the campus, especially undergraduate teaching and research?
- Does the proposing unit have a strong research and teaching excellence record?
- Does the proposing unit promote diversity?
Approved searches, all of which will target professors tenured at other universities, will receive commitments of up to $75,000 in recurring salary support as well as "substantial" start-up funding from the campus.
"These are going to be open searches and we'd like to make six to eight hires a year," Wilson said. "We're hoping these hires will attract such stellar faculty that they will transform areas of our campus. We want people who can contribute immediately."
Wilson said advertising the national searches also will give the UI another level of exposure - sending out the message that the UI is actively adding to its world-renowned academic infrastructure.
"There are lots of stories being circulated about the state of the state of Illinois right now," she said, "and we are eager to go into the national arena with advertising that says we are hiring at the senior level. We want to communicate nationally and internationally that we are moving forward as an institution, and that we continue to hire, robustly and broadly."
With an application deadline of Aug. 1, the window for proposals for the Illinois Strategic Excellence Hiring Program already is closing for this year. But Wilson said the first year is expected to lay the groundwork for next, and that campus deans and faculty leaders have a wealth of proposals on which to work.
"There are lots of people who have been thinking about these issues for a long time," she said. "If they miss this year they can join us in the following year.