Entering the Harvard Square hangout known as Pinocchio's, you're confronted with the requisite menu of pizza variations, the requisite photos of sports teams, and a framed testimonial. An article from The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, provides the testimonial; it reports on Harvard's having lured a leading Stanford researcher in "sub-micron electronic technology." He turned down tenure at Stanford in favor of Harvard's offer.
According to the article, the decision between the two "came down to intangibles" while the physicist was visiting Cambridge. It quotes him as recalling, "I was having pizza with my son at Pinocchio's and everything just felt right." Pizza is, of course, very tangible. Other elements of the environment are less so: "For me, it's the perfect job. You don't have to wear a tie, you can keep your own hours, and as long as you're smart, you can be as weird as you want."
At Duke, the issue of what it takes to attract--and keep--faculty has been brought into sharp relief with the February announcement of a gift of $25 million. The gift, from Ginny Lilly Nicholas '64 and Peter Nicholas '64, is the largest the university has ever received directed specifically for the faculty. By matching new contributions, the gift is expected to yield a total of $75 million over the next two years. Those new funds will go toward "faculty development," a category highlighted in "Building on Excellence," the university's strategic plan, that includes professorships, directorships, and curatorships; research grants, sabbaticals, and leaves; and the infrastructure of teaching and research.
Inhabiting the relatively new infrastructure of the Levine Science Research Center, Alex Hartemink '94, though hardly new to Duke, is a new assistant professor of computer science. As an undergraduate, he majored in mathematics, physics, and economics; he never took a computer science course. Later, he went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, earning an M.Phil. degree in economics. In the fall of 1996, he began a doctoral program in electrical engineering and computer science at M.I.T. He finished the Ph.D. last summer.
Hartemink, who focused his Oxford efforts on choice and preference in economic theory, considered career paths in industry, consulting, and even politics. But he was drawn finally to academe--to the idea of devoting himself to wrestling with ideas. In his job search, he investigated top-ranked programs in computer science. The advertised Duke opening was in artificial intelligence. His own work concerns computational methods for processing and interpreting genomic data--data that point to what the make-up of our genes is, what the expression of those genes results in, how genes change over time. The department ended up hiring a Stanford professor in artificial intelligence and making an "opportunity hire" of Hartemink.
One of the selling points for Duke was an initiative in genomics. Gradually, that initiative is becoming visible in new bricks and mortar, programs, and research directions. "This was pretty central to the way in which the university was going to grow in the next five, ten, twenty years," Hartemink says. "I was looking for an academic research institution that was extremely supportive of the direction in which I was going--in particular, genomics--coupled with a place that sort of felt like home. Not home in the sense of a return, although that's how it played out in my case. But a place where I felt comfortable with my colleagues.
"As a young guy, I'm at a point where I'm exploring. So going somewhere different would help me expand my horizons and perspectives. On the other hand, I had an exceptionally good time at Duke as an undergraduate. In addition to the kinds of undergraduate experiences that I never had any hope of reliving, I just knew the tone of this place. I knew the ability of the administration and the faculty to do amazing things with comparatively fewer resources than a lot of our peer institutions. When I visited Duke and they espoused certain commitments or intentions, I had a lot of confidence that they really meant it. At other places, I wasn't really sure if it was just talk."
Compared with other disciplines, computer science is more a buyer's market. So the places vying for Hartemink showed plenty of flexibility in order to be competitive in salary. Guarantees of research support, he says, were equally alluring--the kind of support that pays for travel to professional conferences, which are important arenas for young faculty. This winter, he attended the Pacific Symposium in Biocomputing in Hawaii, and other conferences are on the near horizon.
Hartemink wants to guide (and attract funding for) a diverse team of graduate students. He says one reason for his hiring at Duke is his enthusiasm for collaboration within and outside the department, including graduate students and colleagues in areas like biology, medicine, and engineering. And he has a computer scientist's eagerness for equipment--encompassing everything from purchasing a laptop computer to outfitting an entire lab. "The nice thing is that the department has an excellent computing infrastructure. So it's not the case that every professor needs to go buy his or her own supercomputer. Eventually, if the things that I'm working on are really successful and the amount of data becomes large, I will need to compute on very fast machines with vast amounts of memory."
Computer science professor and department chair Alan Biermann says Hartemink's application signaled an "incredible opportunity in computational genomics just at a time when Duke wanted to grow in this area. So the deans decided to go for it, and we were able to entice Alex into coming, even though he had very attractive offers elsewhere. Alex's coming has been as big an event as we had expected."
Thomas Crowley has made a career of sifting through large quantities of data, though his concern is not with genetic goings-on but with the patterns of the planet. It was a serendipitous encounter that brought Crowley to Duke last fall as the Nicholas Professor of Geology and Earth Sciences. At a meeting about three years ago, a colleague mentioned that Duke was searching to fill the new chair. Crowley called up Paul Baker in Duke's geology department, whom he had known through professional circles, and was encouraged to apply.
As a Ph.D. student at Brown, Crowley studied sediments and fossils to understand changes in ocean circulation. He went on to teach college courses aboard U.S. Navy ships, collaborate with a climate modeler at the University of Missouri, direct the National Science Foundation's Climate Dynamics Program, serve as a research fellow at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and join a private consulting firm. At Texas A&M, he was professor of oceanography and deputy director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies.
He works with his mathematician wife, Gabi Hegerl. "Because my wife is a professional scientist, we were interested in what type of arrangements Duke might make for her," Crowley says. "And they were, I felt, very open-minded, generous, and flexible in the way they dealt with that." Hegerl is now an associate research professor in the Nicholas School's Earth and Ocean Sciences division.
"Even though I am a geologist, I had worked for a physics department, an oceanography department, I had worked for the government, but I had never been an employee of a geology department," Crowley says. "What I do is some geology, but I also do a lot on modern climate. People with those types of interests sometimes fit in well in geology departments. And sometimes they're a little bit out of step. So it was important for me to see if this type of science meshed well with the rest of the department. Really, there are not many earth and ocean sciences departments in the country where I felt it would be possible. This wasn't just people being polite to a newcomer applying for a job. This really was genuine; it felt that we were connecting well with the people we were meeting at Duke."
Just as Hartemink picked up on a commitment to genomics, Crowley perceived an institutional interest in global change. "And it's really global change, not just climate change. We're changing the chemical makeup of the atmosphere and of the oceans, and we're cutting down trees all the time. All of those things will fold into a comprehensive research program."
"I'm very interested in interactions with different groups of people," says Crowley. "Climate is a very interdisciplinary science. It includes geology, oceanography, meteorology, physics, and statistics, and it spills over to public policy along with all the environmental sciences. I wasn't just interested in doing my own research. I could have done that at Texas A&M; Texas A&M gave me a very generous counteroffer. But I wanted to do more, to interact with people on interdisciplinary topics. I also like the idea of knowledge transfer, of bringing a message from pure science to the general public."
Duke provided what Crowley calls "a generous start-up package," much of it going to purchase equipment from his former operation, carve out space in the Old Chemistry Building (which is "going to be filling up," he points out), and bring on one member of his former research team. The biggest expense in his computer modeling work, he says, isn't in hardware but in staffing. He says the modest-scale operation he prefers would involve the collaborative efforts of research scientists, two or three graduate students, possibly a post-doctoral student, and a couple of undergraduates. "We don't have to worry about giant computing facilities for our own research, although there are some available. The financial burden is really salaries for people, people at the support level and at the Ph.D. level, because a lot of the work is analyzing results--analyzing huge volumes of data. Some of the research we do is covering the last thousand years or so. Then we're doing another project where we're looking at the climate of the Earth from 300 million years ago."
For Crowley, helping to manage a climate center at Texas A&M became a less-than-sunny task. "We just didn't have the resources nor the time to really do what we wanted to do." He says he's likely to be happier as a researcher than an administrator--particularly as a researcher with a chaired professorship. "It's nice to be a chaired professor; it feels nice to be recognized. I think it's an opportunity for more interaction than you might have had otherwise, and also to be able to contribute more. Because, let's face it, you have a little bit more clout."
A different decision was reached a couple of years ago by John Aldrich, a Duke political science professor. Aldrich came to Duke in 1987 from a University of Minnesota political science department that, in his view, appeared to be stagnating. Duke's department "was trying to build a national reputation, which, according to professional rankings, we now have." Since then, Aldrich has published prolifically, won various awards, held leadership roles in professional associations, and trained numerous graduate students.
In 1996-97, he had just finished a stint as chair of political science at Duke. While spending a sabbatical leave researching and teaching in Harvard's government department, he learned that Harvard was considering him for a permanent position--right around the same time that he was awarded an endowed chair at Duke, the Pfizer-Pratt Professorship. ("To be recognized by my peers in this way was and is very important to me," he says.) The next academic year, Harvard extended an offer. Meanwhile, Aldrich's book Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America had been named "best book in U.S. national policy" by the American Political Science Association.
It took almost a year for Aldrich to think through the offer; he ended up turning it down. During that period, one of his friends left Harvard's government department for Stanford. Another outside scholar targeted by Harvard, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also decided to stay put. Part of what was playing out at Harvard, Aldrich says, was a tension between traditional and quantitatively oriented political scientists. The Harvard Crimson, making public the unsuccessful effort to lure Aldrich, lamented that "faculty members find it easier and easier to leave the university for other schools, or simply to turn down the offer to come to Cambridge in the first place."
During the negotiations, Aldrich pressed Duke less for personal advantages than for program enhancements, he says. One outcome was the creation of the American Political Research Group. A joint effort between Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, the group supports collaborative teaching, organizes seminars with outside speakers, and helps graduate students by, among other things, posting academic job listings.
Given the cost-of-living reality in Cambridge, salary lures didn't weigh heavily in his thinking, says Aldrich. He had a different reaction to Harvard's departmental dynamics than Keyssar. "One of the things that I disliked about Harvard was that the sense of intellectual community was limited. There were groups that should have been collaborating and that just didn't talk with each other. Interdisciplinary collaborative work is more difficult there than a lot of places. It's much easier here than a lot of places: Duke seems to have an open intellectual community, and it's easy to put things together across fields within political science, across the social sciences, across the colleges."
Putting things together across a single department has been the key concern for Maureen Quilligan. She arrived at Duke two years ago as the Florence Professor and chair of the English department. She had been the Bryson Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and earlier had taught at Yale. A scholar of the Renaissance, with a particular interest in women and literature, Quilligan is the author of three books and has edited two volumes of essays.
Asked why she made the choice to join Duke, Quilligan laughs--it's a conventional question to which she knows she'll give an unconventional response--and says, "I felt it was an act of professional duty. I could be of more use at Duke than I could be at the University of Pennsylvania." Quilligan talks about wanting to help in healing a "community in pain."
Duke's English department had received unflattering attention from a variety of directions. The New York Times had published a front-page article focusing on the fracturing of a once-heralded program; an external review committee reportedly characterized the department's condition as "seriously weakened" and suggesting a "personnel emergency." The department had been plagued by intense intellectual disagreements, signaled by the moves to other places of many of the high-profile hires made under a former chair, Stanley Fish. "It was absolutely a duty to a profession that had supported me," Quilligan says of her Duke decision. (As an undergraduate student at Berkeley, she had been taught by Fish.) "This was an important English department to save. If I was the one who looked like I was in the best position to help it save itself--and I think that's exactly what it's done--then I couldn't say no. It was a very moral and political and possibly even spiritual demand."
Quilligan sees the department as an intellectual community that collectively is figuring out its direction, even as each new hire potentially changes that direction. As she puts it, "We're going to recruit a group of people who can work together. And then we'll figure out what we are, through a shared conversation that has people speaking beyond their specific idiosyncratic specialties."
English is searching for scholars to fill slots in medieval, nineteenth-century, and early American literary studies. After listening to the candidates in invited presentations and getting to know them in informal circumstances, the department as a whole will make those choices collectively, she says. The idea isn't so much to find a fit for a neat definition of teaching and scholarly background. Quilligan says, "We're not looking to satisfy certain preconceived notions of what an English department ought to look like." Rather, department members are aiming to select "those people who it feels will have the greatest contribution to make to the group and who will profit the most from the group." The department is "constantly being raided," but so far it has withstood the "immense number of outside offers," Quilligan says. "I think people who have stuck around are sticking around for the conversation, just as the people who are coming here are coming here for the conversation."
In a single year, two relatively new faculty members in English, now associate professors, won book prizes from the Modern Language Association: Ian Baucom and Srinivas Aravamudan. To Quilligan, that distinction points to the intellectual energy fostered by recent recruits. Musing about her hoped-for legacy as department chair, she says her main indication of success will be "that the department can happily have any one of its members as chair after this."
Such an observation points to the main measure of "faculty development": a community of colleagues, bound together by shared conversation--and perhaps even by pizza. In the overall university budget, the faculty category is an awfully big slice. For the current fiscal year, faculty salaries (excluding the medical center) come to $78,686,935; fringe benefits are estimated to consume an additional 22.9 percent of that figure. And each time Duke adds a faculty member (in the sciences especially), the startup cost is $500,000 to a million dollars. As Quilligan's concept of her role and her goal suggests, community is an academic ideal. But it's an expensive ideal.
Fashioning Faculty Futures
How does Duke find the best professors? How does it keep them happy--and here? The issue of what it takes to attract and retain faculty was brought into sharp relief with the winter announcement of the largest faculty-targeted gift Duke has ever received.
March 31, 2002
As editor, Bliwise has overall responsibility for editorial direction and content and for representing the magazine to its various constituencies. He also teaches a seminar in magazine journalism through Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.