LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Monday announced plans to increase its agriculture-related faculty by more than 10 percent by Jan. 1.
Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the move positions UNL to become one of a few land-grant universities that will lead the way in solving the food-production needs of the future.
Land-grant universities are those established under the Morrill Act of 1862 to provide instruction in agriculture, science and engineering.
“It's a bold statement that we're making,” he said. “Some would say it's risky to be taking on this much at once. But I'd say it's a calculated, strategic move that's going to pay off big in the long run.”
The initiative is a step toward meeting UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman's goal to significantly increase faculty and student enrollment by 2017. Green described it as a “big bang,” following several years of budget cuts and holds on hiring.
The plan calls for hiring 36 tenure-track faculty members in areas ranging from science literacy to agricultural production and natural resources.
Salary costs will range from $2.5 million to about $5 million, depending on experience level of the new employees, who could range from assistant professors to full professors, said Ron Yoder, IANR associate vice chancellor.
Additional costs would depend on the level of support required by each faculty member — for example, specialized equipment for a research laboratory, graduate assistants to aid in research and teaching, or other administrative support.
Additional tuition revenue, research dollars and private contributions will pay for the additional faculty, said Yoder, who added that agricultural enrollments at UNL have grown steadily since 2005. Currently, UNL has about 300 IANR faculty members.
UNL is among land-grant colleges that have seen significant enrollment increases at their agriculture schools in recent years, with graduates in growing demand around the world.
Agriculture enrollment at Iowa State University, for example, hit an all-time record of 3,900 undergraduates this year, an increase of nearly 60 percent since 2005.
Brian Meyer, director of college relations for Iowa State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said additional instructors and lecturers have been hired to teach freshman and sophomore classes, which have grown in size. But the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty has decreased slightly in that time frame.
In 2005-06, Iowa State had 277 tenured or tenure-track faculty in the agriculture college and 18 nontenured faculty.
In 2011-12, there were 272 tenured or tenure-track faculty and 35 nontenured faculty.
Nontenured faculty typically are teachers who are hired on a year-by-year basis, who often get lower pay and benefits than their tenured counterparts. Tenured professors have been granted appointments with indefinite ending times, but they are held to higher expectations for research and service.
Iowa State does not have a specific plan to hire more agriculture faculty, officials said. However, President Steven Leath, upon his installation in September, pledged to add 200 new faculty jobs as part of Iowa State's goal of helping the state assemble the work force needed to become a “bio-economy” leader.
In Nebraska, agriculture enrollments have grown nearly 65 percent since 2004, surpassing 2,000 in 2012.
Yoder said some of the new faculty positions already have been advertised.
Many of the hires will be made in time for the start of the 2013-14 academic year, Yoder said, and he hopes the rest are in place by Jan. 1, 2014.
The new jobs are not limited to agronomy and agribusiness. They are classified in five areas that IANR leaders have identified as potential areas of future growth and strength: science literacy, stress biology, computational sciences, healthy humans, and healthy systems for agricultural production and natural resources. A sixth category, labeled “core positions,” reflects long-standing programs that need shoring up.
Among the positions to be filled: plant biotic stress biologist; animal functional genomicist; food and nutrition professor specializing in lipid metabolism and health; behavioral studies professor specializing in economics and health disparities; range/forage management ecologist; water resources management engineer specialist; and a food allergy risk assessment specialist.
Although the jobs aren't directly tied to the newly established Daugherty Water for Food Institute or the Innovation Campus, they were identified by IANR leaders who visualized areas for future growth.
“Those were in our mind as we talked about areas we wanted to build strength in and we wanted to be competitive in,” Yoder said.
The 36 positions being created now follow the creation of six water research positions within the past year, Yoder said. Four of those positions were filled last summer. Two more are to be hired in coming months. Those positions are intended to support the activities of the Water for Food Institute, he said.
While it is the biggest hiring effort at UNL in recent years, said vice chancellor Green, the faculty expansion continues a steady increase in IANR faculty over the past couple of years. He expects to embark on a fresh wave of new hires in about 18 months.
“We are absolutely convinced that as a university it's time to double down in our investment in these areas around food, fuel and water,” he said.
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