BU Launches $1.8 Billion Plan to Expand Faculty

Boston University officials outlined an ambitious 10-year, $1.8 billion strategic plan Thursday to add 150 professors, dramatically lower the school’s student-faculty ratio, and pour money into salaries to allow BU to vie for the nation’s top professors.

The plan marks the most ambitious program for the university since Robert A. Brown became president in 2005, and focuses more on improving the school’s academic reputation than adding bricks and mortar to a campus that is already expanding on both sides of Commonwealth Avenue.

Brown calls for the university’s largest school, the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, to add 100 more tenure-track and tenured positions to its 488-member faculty and for the business school to hire 20. The additions amount to a 22 percent jump in faculty at both schools and will help cut the overall student-to-faculty ratio from 14 to 1 to 9 to 1.

“It’s moving Boston University to be in that list of the elite, large, private research universities of America, an NYU, a Penn, a Northwestern,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “We’ll do it by investing in faculty, students, and programs.”

Brown’s goal is to raise BU’s national profile and crack the top 30 in years to come in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, rather than hovering around 60th among private, national research universities.

The plan incorporates the ideas of professors, students, trustees, and staff provided over the past year. The details, endorsed in several meetings during the past months with BU trustees who helped set the goals, are to be announced on the university Web site and delivered to faculty by e-mail.

As part of an attempt to broaden education options for students, BU will add 30 university-wide faculty positions for professors who specialize in more than one area and can teach in multiple schools. Along with money it already spends on cost-of-living raises, BU will spend $25 million each year on salary increases to give the school a chance to compete with other private universities for top professors and raise more money for financial aid.

The university will pay for about 60 percent of the plan’s costs, which will rise each year until they reach $225 million a year in a decade, out of its operating budget. It will rely on donations and its endowment for the rest.

It is the first major attempt to stamp his mark on the school for Brown, a former provost at MIT, who took the helm at BU after years of turmoil over leadership at the university.

It also is the first significant initiative since former president John Silber led a $1.4 billion plan to add dormitories and improve facilities and began turning the former commuter school into a national research university. Silber led the school for 25 years until 1996 and had a reputation for stirring fear among faculty.

Several professors praised Brown’s plan and his approach in developing it.

“The process by which the strategic plan came about is unprecedented at this institution,” said Jim Iffland, a professor of Spanish literature at BU for 33 years. “President Brown … has consulted the entire university community. President Brown is leading Boston University as opposed to simply controlling it, which was what John Silber used to do.”

The linchpin of Brown’s plan - adding faculty and raising salaries - mirrors an effort Northeastern began three years ago, when it announced plans to hire 100 new professors over five years. Northeastern drew fire from faculty members when it began eliminating some instructors, who had practical experience in their fields, as it added new professors.

Brown has assured the BU faculty that the new hires will be additions, not replacements, said Julie Sandell, chairwoman of the Faculty Council and a medical school professor. She said Brown’s plan represents a major commitment to the faculty, with its proposal to increase salary and add positions.

Professors have been pushing for years to raise BU’s salaries to help with recruiting, but also to establish more equitable pay universitywide, she said.

A group of professors who set up a Web site to track administrative spending five years ago had pointed out how faculty salaries languished as the administration made extravagant purchases, including a $32 million executive suite overlooking the Charles River. They shut down the site when Brown was installed, and his plan to make the quality and pay of faculty a priority reinforces their view that times have changed since the Silber era, said Carol Neidle, a professor of linguistics who helped run the BU Watch site.

“With Bob Brown here as president and with a new dean of the arts and sciences, I feel more encouraged about this university than I have in the last 25 years that I have been here,” said Neidle. Brown installed a new dean of the school in July as part of many moves he has made.

Last school year, according to data from the American Association of University Professors, BU’s average salary for full professors was $122,164, ninth among 11 other schools it identifies as peers: Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Northwestern, Emory, Boston College, Tufts, Syracuse, the University of Southern California, George Washington, and Syracuse. BU ranked 11th out of 12 for the average salary paid to assistant professors, at $69,760. The average for full professors among the dozen schools was $135,629, while it was $77,712 for assistant professors.

Brown would not say how high he would boost salaries, saying he did not want to tip off BU’s competitors.

BU will also increase spending on the College of Fine Arts. The school will get more practice rooms and renovations to enhance its performance venues. Like other schools within BU, the College of Fine Arts will become more accessible to all students, regardless of majors, as a part of the universitywide plan. The arts school will start allowing students to minor in music, Brown said.

The emphasis on the arts school is wise, Sandell said. “That’s one little part that has potential to have a big impact,” she said.

Kyle Getz, a BU senior majoring in history and social science, said he would have liked to see even more emphasis in Brown’s plan on breaking down the walls between schools.

“There should be a little more unity in the college,” Getz said. “BU has small little colleges with lots of autonomy. It’s more like nations in the United Nations.”

He liked the idea of adding more faculty members, but had a caveat: Make sure the recruited professors are equally skilled at teaching and research.