Milliken: Professorship act will enhance university’s quality, competitiveness, provide ‘win-win’ for state
Lincoln, Neb., Feb. 8, 2005 -- University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken today promoted the Distinguished Professorship Act as a way for the University of Nebraska and state colleges to be more competitive in faculty recruitment and retention.

LB 47, the Distinguished Professorship Act, creates a mechanism for private donations to be leveraged with state dollars to create State of Nebraska Endowed Professorships and State of Nebraska Endowed Chairs at the University of Nebraska and the state colleges. Private gifts of $250,000 or more designated to create new endowed professorships, or gifts of $500,000 or more designated to create new endowed chairs, would be matched with a like amount from the fund.

"The Nebraska Distinguished Professorship Act will help recruit and retain top faculty and encourage new investment from the private sector," Milliken said. "The fund allows the private sector to leverage support in targeted areas. That creates a genuine win-win situation."

LB 47 was introduced by state senators David Landis, Chris Beutler, Ron Raikes and Kermit Brashear, and was heard in committee today.

"An excellent faculty speaks to the fundamental quality of the institution, and there is a bottom-line impact as well," according to Milliken. "Faculty are the foundation of any institution of higher education; they make the difference between mediocrity and excellence. They fulfill the very important role of teaching our students and helping prepare them for the future."

Milliken cites examples of the dozens of nationally recognized faculty experts and researchers that have been recruited to Nebraska with endowed professorships and chairs. Bruce Avolio chairs the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Gallup Leadership Institute and holds the Donald Clifton Endowed Chair and is an international experts in leadership. At the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha, Ilze Zigurs was recruited from the University of Colorado thanks to the Mutual of Omaha chair in information science and technology. She studies how technology is impacting the way in which groups of people in a business setting interact.

"There are countless other examples," Milliken said. "In medical research, agriculture, computer security, criminal justice, national defense, biochemistry -- and many other areas, we have some of the best faculty in the country." Milliken said there is also a bottom-line impact to recruiting and keeping excellent faculty, including their ability to attract grant money from organizations like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. "The potential to win major grants is one of the reasons we seek out specific individuals," he said, noting that as a result, funding for competitive research grants at the University of Nebraska has increased by more than 150 percent over the past decade, reaching $167 million in 2004.

The research funded by these grants not only creates new jobs -- the National Science Foundation estimates 31 new jobs for each million dollars in external research funding -- but it creates new knowledge that is helping save lives, increase business productivity, Milliken said, and improve the quality of life for Nebraskans.

Public universities are finding it more and more difficult to recruit and retain the best faculty members because Nebraska’s salaries, facilities, and other support are often not as competitive as those offered by other institutions, he said, and there is a growing gap in the average salaries paid to faculty nationally in large public and private research universities. In 2004, taking into account all faculty categories in doctoral institutions, the difference had grown to just over $20,000 per year. Nebraska also competes with other public universities for top faculty, and 23 states currently have matching fund programs to increase private donations to public education, including Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

"Increasing the number of endowed chairs and professorships would provide us an opportunity to level the playing field somewhat and to compete more effectively," he said. "We don’t want to lose our outstanding faculty stars because we’re not competitive. Unfortunately, this has already occurred in several instances."

Another advantage of the legislation is that it leverages private funds and increases the willingness of potential donors to make major gifts to the university. Knowing that a gift will, in effect, be doubled is a tremendous incentive, Milliken said.

"I firmly believe that faculty are key to the future of the university, and that the university is key to the economic future of Nebraska," said Milliken.

The University of Nebraska includes four campuses: the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The president is the university’s chief executive officer.

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