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  November 17, 2003

Hiring Re-opens: Key Faculty,
Staff Positions To Be Filled

Deans, directors, and department heads in the Storrs-based programs and at the Health Center have begun to open searches for dozens of faculty and staff positions that have been vacant since nearly 500 faculty and staff retired last semester.

"We will be filling a number of key faculty slots," Provost John D. Petersen said last week. "But what makes this effort particularly rewarding is that we have an opportunity to hire faculty in strategic areas that align well with our academic plan. This will allow us to build on existing areas of strength and emphasis, as well as address areas of need that most help our students. We continue to have limited resources, so we are planning carefully to direct funds where we can use these resources most effectively."

Because of ongoing clinical and patient care needs, the Health Center has already filled the positions that were opened by the early retirement program, according to Susan Whetstone, chief administrative officer for the Health Center. "We had rehired 24 positions by the end of the summer," she said.

Lorraine Aronson, vice president and chief financial officer, said officials hope to refill many of the positions left open since the conclusion of the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) early last summer.

"With the Board of Trustees' adoption of the 2003-04 spending plan, and with greater certainty related to the financial impact of the Early Retirement Incentive Program, we are finally in a position to move forward," she said. "We believe we have entered into a more stable budgetary environment, and we believe we'll be able to close the year in balance."

Aronson didn't have to speak twice. Almost immediately, search documents began pouring into Human Resources, with more than 40 positions announced in the past two weeks alone. A full-page advertisement highlighting faculty openings will appear in an upcoming issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education to enhance the recruiting effort. Deans and directors are moving quickly to form search committees, and have already begun to accept applications and nominations for faculty and support staff positions.

The process of conducting multiple searches concurrently "creates a number of challenges," said Richard Schwab, dean of the Neag School of Education. "But they're challenges I'm very happy to be taking on." He hopes to hire at least 20 new faculty before September 2004.

Legislation approved last month by the General Assembly authorized the University to retain 50 percent of the savings accrued from the early retirements, Aronson said. That, combined with savings from programmatic restructuring, salary freezes agreed to by members of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and non-unionized managers, and strict vacancy management, will enable the University to achieve a degree of financial stability through the academic year. Yet the level of state support in the current year is less than the University received last year, and $13.4 million less (including $2.7 million less at the UConn Health Center) than the University required for current services in 2003-04.

Aronson cautioned deans to "be vigilant with regard to financial commitments," since nobody can be certain the state's finances will remain stable.

"Fiscal year '05 will not be easy under any circumstances," she added.

But even that warning couldn't temper the relief across campus.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for rejuvenation," said Ross MacKinnon, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who lost about 65 employees - 50 of them faculty - out of a total of less than 500, to the ERIP and other opportunities last spring. "That's an extraordinary turnover for one year, which causes a lot of disruption."

Now, however, MacKinnon sees an equally extraordinary opportunity for the school to enhance several areas of excellence, including history, human rights, and ethnic diversity, and to add faculty in areas of student concentration, like political science and journalism.

MacKinnon said he has opened 30 searches already, adding that he regards replacing the lost faculty as a two-year process. He also has begun working to fill 15 staff positions.

"The faculty can't do their job without appropriate support staff," he said.

Petersen said during the transition period, retired faculty and staff who returned to their jobs on a durational basis to help the University continue to serve students.

"We've been very fortunate that so many faculty and staff agreed to return during this critical time," he said. "They bring with them a tremendous amount of knowledge and energy, and are performing an important service" in helping to bridge the gap until positions are filled.

In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said MacKinnon, "not all the positions will be refilled, but there are enough to make it interesting. This should be a tremendous boost to morale."