Rowan hires 60 faculty as research becomes a priority

Rowan President Ali Houshmand: "It is sink or swim."
Rowan President Ali Houshmand: "It is sink or swim."
Posted: July 02, 2013

Students at Rowan University might not immediately notice the school's new "research" designation when they return to campus in the fall, but they will see quite a few new faces among the faculty.

The university has hired more than 60 new faculty members this year to begin in the fall, the largest single group of hires in the school's history, as it launches a state-supported expansion into a large research institution.

In order to maintain the school's current commitment to teaching while meeting new research responsibilities, administrators have hired faculty in two groups: professors, who will teach and do research, and instructors, who are expected to teach more classes and have no research obligation.

Rowan becomes a state-designated research institution Monday, the second comprehensive public research institution in the state, after Rutgers University.

The move is part of the state's higher education restructuring, which Rowan's president has said gives it a chance to at least double every major metric of its size.

Among president Ali Houshmand's goals for the next 10 years: doubling student enrollment, quadrupling research grant funding, increasing the operating budget by 2.5 times, and more than tripling the school's endowment of about $150 million.

"We feel that we have been challenged, we have been dropped in the middle of the ocean and we have no choice; it is sink or swim," Houshmand said recently, sitting at a handsome wooden table in his office.

Tasked with the new research mission, the school faced a vexing problem, Houshmand said: How do you support research without creating a "publish or perish" environment that hurts the student experience?

Houshmand said it gave him an opportunity to fulfill a promise he made to himself years ago, when he had just failed to gain tenure as a professor at the University of Cincinnati though he had won every teaching award offered.

He had more than $1 million in research funding, he said, but was told his grants were not prestigious enough because they came from corporations rather than the federal government. He was told he lacked dedication to research.

"I promised myself that if I ever reached a position of leadership, I would never do to future faculty what these guys did to me," Houshmand said. "That culture is not a good culture, we need to change that. And how do you change that? You create a system where both of these groups are important and are valued, each of them has a role to play."

The university launched the new system this year, hiring 33 non-research instructors and 31 traditional - teaching and research - professors.

Jim Newell, the school's provost, said "we're still hiring the traditional assistant professor who is able to teach and do research . . . but we still need large numbers of people teaching to the undergraduates in our courses."

Of more than 12,000 students enrolled at the university, nearly 11,000 are undergraduates.

The current faculty, nearly 400 full-time professors, remains unchanged in classification. Tenure guidelines are applicable at the time of hire and cannot be changed retroactively, Newell said.

Research-track faculty will be expected to spend about a quarter of their time on research, Newell said.

The tenure criteria for non-research instructors will be teaching, service, and professional development.

Newell said that will allow the university to minimize its dependence on adjuncts, who are hired to teach individual classes, while keeping the focus on what Houshmand called "the core: residential undergraduate students."

The position is exactly what Jenahvive Morgan, a new Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, was looking for. Having taught high school math before starting her doctoral program, she said, she realized she had a passion for teaching.

"I knew that I was going to be looking for a position that was a little bit untraditional and allow me to do a lot of teaching. So basically when I learned about the Rowan position, I was super excited and I immediately applied," said Morgan, who begins teaching in the fall.

The Rowan faculty will also immediately expand Monday when the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is officially dismantled. Seven of UMDNJ's eight schools are going to Rutgers; the eighth, the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, is merging into Rowan.

Houshmand said he hopes to eventually expand the faculty size to 800.

The restructuring of state schools has been closely watched as the July 1 deadline approached.

"It's exciting to be part of a place that I can see the growth that will be there. It's exciting to be part of it," said Nidhal Bouaynaya, who is giving up her tenured assistant professorship at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for a tenure-track position at Rowan.

Bouaynaya, an engineer whose work in genomic signals trafficking crosses traditional disciplinary lines, won research awards at the college and university level at Arkansas this year. She also brings a $1.2 million award from the National Institutes of Health in 2009 for collaborative research with two others.

Though she received offers from several other universities, Bouaynaya said, she chose Rowan because its size meant she would have an easier time making an impact.

Tony Lowman, dean of Rowan's engineering school, said he was excited to be able to hire new faculty with interests as diverse as Bouaynaya's and Morgan's.

"There's something to be said about being taught by somebody who's dedicated toward undergraduate education and only undergraduate education," he said. "And there's something to be said for the experience of being taught by a world leader in engineering research."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @elaijuh.

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