How should higher ed address the problem of losing faculty members to industry?
- As the economy shifts and certain industries become more lucrative to work in, there are cycles of "pressure" with "faculty being recruited by companies for outrageous salaries," said Terri Fiez, vice chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Colorado Boulder, at a July research roundtable discussion hosted by The Science Coalition and Association of American Universities. However, she said, "it's not always bad because people make choices, and those of us in academia are in it for a very specific reason."
- The reason, Fiez explained, is why higher education leaders don't need to worry about losing faculty members to industry jobs. "Academia is a very specific thing," she said. "You have to come up with your own ideas, figure out how to fund it, bring students along and work with them and see it all the way through" and having that "freedom to create and discover" will make the right faculty want to stay.
- Mark Barteau, vice president for research at Texas A&M University, added to that point, noting that it is important for the higher education industry to be aware of "the demands on young faculty have become so much greater" than in the past. And, leaders must be careful those constraints don't push out people that would like to stay in academia, a reality that "goes directly against our need for greater diversity in higher education," he said.
The number of part-time faculty members across college campuses has increased 70% over the last 40 years, according to data from the American Association of University Professors. This means that fewer academics see themselves on the coveted tenure track, and this reality creates greater pressure for adjunct and associate faculty members who often struggle to cover their costs of living without a full-time salary and benefits. This challenge, as Barteau explained, can push non-tenure-track faculty members into industry, especially in emerging fields like artificial intelligence or computer science, if they need higher pay.
But while it's key higher education leaders turn a reflective eye toward the demands of faculty members, there should also be a focus on making sure professionals in academia maintain their excitement and faith in the field, said Chris Molloy, senior vice president for research and development at Rutgers University, who was also at the roundtable.
"Industry is a very different place. I'm certainly trying to retain faculty, but it's not a bad thing people leave," said Molloy. "I do agree it's a challenging time; we have a lot of greatly educated people in this country. But we still have a lot of older people hanging around. While we've got these great professors, it's very important we start to make room for new faculty."
To achieve this going forward, he said, it's critical for institutions to "focus on maintaining a good level of state, federal and industry funding," to finance research initiatives for professors, and tap into their internal drive to contribute to discovery in their fields so they feel compelled to stay in academia, rather than leaving it.
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