Dartmouth’s ‘cluster hiring’ move ‘key to attracting top scholars’

President says Ivy League institution is reaping reward of looking past academic silos and selecting staff on ability to tackle external challenge

October 10, 2019
Source: Getty
No boundaries: ‘we’re organising the hire of staff around an external challenge’

A leading US university has credited its new strength in recruiting and retaining top scholars to a novel approach to hiring focused on selecting academics based on their ability to help solve a global problem, rather than their research specialism.

Philip Hanlon, president of Dartmouth College, said the institution’s “cluster hiring initiative” had helped it to hire, and hold on to, leading scholars in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace.

As part of the scheme, the private Ivy League research university has established 10 “cluster themes”, including the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, Arctic engineering in a period of climate change and next-level cybersecurity. Dartmouth’s goal is to recruit three new academics to work on each of the clusters, but Professor Hanlon said the university was not designating the department in which the scholar would be based.

“Historically, like most universities, when we set out to hire a faculty member, we did it by academic discipline. We said: ‘We want to hire a historian who studies the Civil War.’ With the cluster initiative, what we’re doing is hiring groups of faculty, but we’re organising the hire around some external challenge,” he told Times Higher Education.

The new interdisciplinary teams would both conduct research and teach courses “on this important world topic”, Professor Hanlon said, adding that each cluster was “in an area where we already have some faculty interest and strength”.

The programme was benefiting students, who were increasingly interested in “interdisciplinary majors” such as neuroscience, environmental studies and international relations, he continued.

Professor Hanlon said that the university had raised $150 million (£122 million) through philanthropy since 2014 to support the programme and that 24 of the 30 new academic positions were already “fully funded”. Of these 24 posts, Dartmouth has hired 13 new scholars, with a further two offers outstanding.

“We shot for very high quality so that the level of success is quite good,” he said. “We’ve been able to recruit some outstanding faculty from MIT and Northwestern against competing offers from Duke, Stanford and Columbia.”

The New Hampshire university has also increased its average faculty compensation over the past six years.

Professor Hanlon said that when he took over the institution in 2013, it was ranked 16th in the US on this measure and it is now ranked fifth, as a result of a “prioritisation and reallocation process” at the university.

As part of this process, Dartmouth has reduced annual growth in spending from 6.3 per cent to 1.7 per cent and brought down the rate at which tuition fees are rising to the lowest level since the 1950s, by cutting 200 full-time roles in the central administration, he said.

“We’ve tried not to in any way impinge on the student experience,” he said. “We’re trying to increase opportunities for undergraduate research, for studying abroad, for entrepreneurial activities.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Challenge-based ‘cluster hiring’ attracts top talent

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