Poaching for Academic Superstars!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (subscription required) today describing the competition for superstar faculty researchers.   Using the state of Texas as an example, the article explains:

“At a time when American research universities face growing financial pressure, driven largely by cuts in federal and state financing, Texas stands as something of an anomaly — and, perhaps, a role model. By laying out millions of dollars to lure premier cancer scientists from other universities across the country, the state is drawing criticism and skepticism as well as envy and emulation.

Some embrace the practice as recruiting; others deride it as poaching. Either way, it’s a tactic pretty much as old as universities themselves. The centuries-old quest to accumulate the most celebrated scientific minds has always come with benefits both financial and emotional.

But in more recent years, the economic value of the strategy has moved to the fore. Beyond Texas, several states have made an explicit practice of figuring out which fields of scientific research are most important to their economic futures, and then giving their universities money to go out and hire established scholars, and rising stars, in those fields.”

The article goes on to describe several recent hires in Texas universities:

“Sean J. Morrison, professor of pediatrics: $10 million. James P. Allison, professor of immunology: $10 million. Nancy A. Jenkins and Neal G. Copeland, deans of cancer biology and genetics: $7.5 million each.

Such are the hefty recruiting packages that lured four researchers — along with their labs and staffs — to Texas. They’ve joined 80 other leading cancer researchers who have moved to Texas’ universities and institutes over the past five years thanks to a $250-million state-aided spending spree on science superstars.”

As the article indicates, this is not a new practice but has been going on for decades. Regardless the amount of the recruitment packages are startling. Also the fact that the funding of these recruitments is part of an overall state development strategy should cause other states to consider this type of investment.



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