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Chancellor Early Achievement Professorships to retain UW–Madison’s rising star faculty

June 28, 2022 By Käri Knutson

Beginning in the upcoming academic year, UW–Madison will have a new tool to retain and support some of its best early career faculty. The newly created Chancellor Early Achievement Professorships will be awarded to those who have built an outstanding record to date in their teaching, research and service to campus and/or to a broader national audience within their profession.

The Early Achievement Professorship targets research and discretionary support to faculty at a critical moment in their careers. Recently tenured faculty members are often targets for recruitment by peer institutions, having proven themselves within their field of study at one of the nation’s top research universities. The program is modeled on the National Science Foundation CAREER awards, which “support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

Increasing resources to recruit and retain top faculty had been a frequent topic of conversation between the university’s top supporters and former Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who left at the end of the 2021–22 academic year to assume the presidency of Northwestern University.

The newly named professorships build on continued investment into faculty excellence that occurred during Blank’s tenure. As part of the All Ways Forward campaign, which raised more than $4 billion, 255 endowed faculty positions were created. Blank restarted the university’s cluster hiring initiative, which enables transformational research in forward-looking fields such as artificial intelligence, the origins of life, and astrophysical data, among others. The university has also hired dozens of diverse faculty across the university through the TOP program launched by Blank.

“It was always my goal to leave this university stronger than when I came and I believe that together we have achieved that,” Blank said in October when announcing her departure. “I want to thank the many staff and faculty who have been partners and collaborators in everything we’ve done.”

In response to a recent discussion of the Chancellor Early Achievement Professorships proposal, members of the Chancellor’s Advisory Council and Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association stepped forward to provide additional funding that will expand the number of professorships and ensure that two are named in honor of Blank and her husband, Hanns Kuttner, as a lasting legacy of their contributions to the excellence of UW–Madison.

At least 11 newly established professorships will recognize and work to retain recently tenured UW–Madison faculty by providing them with additional support for their scholarship. Chancellor Early Achievement Professorships will be endowed at $1 million each and held for five years.

“I am thrilled that this exciting new initiative will help us recognize and celebrate our rising-star faculty. Endowed professorships are critical to ensuring UW–Madison remains a top research and educational institution,” says Interim Chancellor John Karl Scholz.

In a typical year, two professorships will be available on a competitive basis to recently tenured UW–Madison faculty. If a particularly deserving set of nominees arise, awards could be bunched. The expectation is that the provost will retain and award at least some of these in real time (that is, not through an annual evaluation process), as a way to respond nimbly to outside offers to top emerging scholars.

Each endowment would yield 4.5 percent each year, as set by the UW Foundation, providing at least $45,000 annually which, like Morgridge Match Professorships, would be spent half on salary and half for a flexible research account. Recipients on nine-month appointments could use the flexible research account to draw summer salary support, if so desired.

Faculty receiving a Chancellor Early Achievement Professorship need to be nominated by their department chairs and nominations would be advanced through their dean to the provost. Nominees would be expected to have shown exceptional promise as assistant professors — as teachers, mentors, researchers and colleagues. A faculty member should be within four years of receiving tenure in order to be eligible for this award.