Strategic Plan Emphasizes Importance of Faculty Hiring

New faculty hired over the next decade will play a major role in defining the University of Virginia in the 21st century, according to U.Va. leaders.

One of the five major initiatives in the University of Virginia’s strategic plan to chart and enhance U.Va.’s future as a premier public university focuses on assembling and supporting a distinguished faculty – an effort that will require creative and collaborative methods, said School of Nursing Dean Dorrie Fontaine, who chaired the working group on faculty recruitment, retention and development.

The plan, nearing final draft form, proposes as one of 15 strategies implementing a new model of attracting top-quality potential candidates: a process of “continuous active recruiting” in the search for excellent candidates. It is based on the long-term cultivation of relationships with potential applicants and necessitates integrated and strategic recruitment efforts across the University.

The deans, with the provost’s assistance, will work on strategic recruitment plans for the next few years and for the long term, along with bolstered recruitment support, to maximize the success of academic hiring at U.Va.

U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan, as well as Executive Vice President and Provost John Simon, have said they want to be involved in the recruiting effort. “This is important to all of us,” Simon said. “An excellent university equals excellent faculty.”

Fontaine reiterated one of Simon’s comments that U.Va. can’t be an excellent university without excellent faculty. Sullivan has several times compared the current challenge with founder Thomas Jefferson’s task of hiring the first faculty, when he said he wanted “to receive none but of the highest grade.”

U.Va. will be competing with other top universities for the best professors as an unprecedented number of Baby Boomer professors retire over the next decade. The University will need to hire hundreds of professors by then, Fontaine said, essentially renewing the faculty.

Rather than pursuing episodic hiring – where new faculty are sought, recruited and hired to fill vacant or soon-to-be-vacant positions – continuous active recruiting is about identifying the best talent and then having an established relationship with them when an opportunity arises. This is good for both the school and the candidate, who understand each other at a higher level than can occur with a brief recruitment and hiring process, said Catherine Brand, director of the Executive Search Group and Strategic Resourcing, U.Va.’s internal search firm.

“This new approach will not only revitalize U.Va. recruitment, but will allow us to identify and cultivate the greatest talent and then secure those who are an ideal fit here at U.Va.,” Brand said.

Fontaine added, “We want to hire at the senior level, but  also spot talent at all levels around the country who have high potential,”

Faculty members should be encouraged to expand their professional networks, looking for potential, diverse candidates at conferences or other meetings and finding ways to cultivate their interest in U.Va. Participation in programs around the country that identify promising junior stars in all fields may be especially valuable, Brand said. Faculty members will be encouraged to invite potential candidates to Grounds to give papers or participate in research and scholarship, for example, creating positive impressions of U.Va. and grounding the developing relationships, she said.

Fontaine likened the importance of building relationships with potential candidates to “courting” them – over time, if necessary. The idea is to get candidates to “fall in love with U.Va.,” she said.

Brand, whose recruiting team assists with high-level searches, mentioned her group consistently receives feedback crediting a visit to Grounds as the deciding factor for why candidates choose U.Va. over its peers.

“The ‘high-touch’ experience and connecting candidates with students, our leadership, special interest groups, real estate agents, schools, etc. and ensuring candidates feel welcomed by the entire U.Va. community during this critical visit is vitally important,” Brand said. “We want candidates to get a sense of our distinctive qualities and what makes U.Va. special.”

The University should expand the ability to hire strategically by leveraging and providing broader resources, Brand said, while sharing successful practices from across the schools and proven search methodologies from the recruiting industry with faculty search committees.

Several other ideas are being developed to provide increased support, including a virtual recruitment center, which Brand described as “a one-stop website with the most updated recruiting-related materials, guidelines and downloadable templates to increase the effectiveness of search committees.” This increased search support will allow the faculty search committees to better focus on attracting and retaining the top candidates in their disciplines.

The new recruiting model emphasizes broadening faculty excellence, seeking more interdisciplinary appointments and faculty interested in collaborative work, Fontaine said. “Then more students will have access to wonderful faculty,” she added.

As an example, she mentioned a new professor this year in the Nursing School: Susan Bauer-Wu, hired as the Tussi and John Kluge Endowed Professor in Contemplative End-of-Life Care with a joint appointment in the College of Arts & SciencesDepartment of Religious Studies.

“Bringing excellent faculty here – that will be our legacy, our most important work,” Fontaine said.

“We want to be clear about our mission, vision and values,” and hire people who are a good fit with U.Va., Fontaine said. “They must value teaching and love students, as well as research.”

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications