Willamette University Receives $800,000 to Ease Faculty Turnover

While baby boomer retirement is undoubtedly a national trend, Willamette University has gotten a leg up on the challenge. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the University $800,000 to address the issue of senior faculty retirement and junior faculty recruitment and retention.

By the year 2011, 29 percent of Willamette University College of Liberal Arts faculty will be at least 65 years old and 39 percent will be at least 60. Some departments are bracing for a more than 50 percent turnover in the next few years.

"If you consider CLA faculty who will be between 60 and 65 years old in seven years," said Tori Haring-Smith, Willamette University vice president for educational affairs, "this is a group that has devoted 1,126 years of service to the University. Their influence on the shape of this institution is unquestionable."

With funding to help with "hiring ahead," the University can ensure continuity of curricular planning and exceptional pedagogy that is the hallmark of Willamette University. Since 1985, the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education have named seven Willamette University faculty members Oregon Professor of the Year.

"Many of our new faculty come to us from large graduate programs at research-intensive universities, " said Haring-Smith. "As a result, much of their time as junior professors is occupied with learning how to teach undergraduates. Willamette is deeply committed to teaching; success in the classroom is our primary criterion for tenure and promotion. We feel it is vital that junior faculty be closely mentored during their first six or seven years here. With the Mellon funding, we can hire ahead of these retirements and give junior faculty the time they need to get this needed mentoring."

Senior faculty flight also has a positive side. It offers all universities an opportunity to rethink how the curriculum and institutional structure can respond to new knowledge.

Haring-Smith added, "Colleges are essentially conservative. They change slowly because curricular and institutional structures are ingrained through hiring practices. Once a professor is hired and achieves tenure, that individual, and his or her particular research interest, will shape the curriculum for a period of about 35 years. Our world is changing rapidly and faculty turnover is an opportunity to keep pace with the changes."

Carol Long, dean of the Willamette University College of Liberal Arts and the person charged with faculty recruitment and retention, said, "The Mellon grant will allow us to discover new connections among traditional disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, experiment with new teaching methods and challenge ourselves to design new curricular structures. This initiative will give the University an opportunity to explore the nature of liberal arts education and shape this University for the 21st century."