Coltrane says response to Espy’s cluster hire plan “uniformly positive”

Update: Coltrane has posted a new (March 14) draft of the cluster hire proposal (archive here) – removing some of the sillier language.

That’s the word from “Around the O”:

Cluster hire proposals are due May 1, and may come from small groups of faculty, organized research or curricular programs, departments, schools and colleges, or cross-college collaborations.

The criteria for selecting cluster hire proposals include the ability to achieve national or international pre-eminence, enhancement of cross-disciplinary collaboration, and potential to build on and connect existing strengths.

Campus research, academic leadership and faculty advisory committees will review the proposals and make recommendations to the provost’s office, which will launch the search process by June 1. The first new faculty clusters are expected to be on campus as early as January 2014, but no later than fall of 2014, Coltrane said.

The provost’s office has set aside $2 million for initial hiring. The university will likely repeat the process every two years, he said.

After the session, Coltrane said faculty response to the initiative has been “uniformly positive.”

3/10/2014: Good news and bad news on UO and the AAU

The good news? UO finally has a plan for academic excellence.

The bad news? President Gottfredson has checked out and left RIGE VP Kimberly Andrews Espy in charge.

Here’s a screenshot, in case your Department head didn’t pass it on, out of a completely understandable desire to protect you from thinking about how absurd Johnson Hall has become. Link to pdf here.

Grand challenges! Power our future! Sustain treasured environmental resources! Advance the human condition!

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 2.06.18 AM

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23 Responses to Coltrane says response to Espy’s cluster hire plan “uniformly positive”

  1. Recall says:

    Improvements to the budget model….

    The well isn’t dry after all!!

  2. Sigh says:

    My initial reaction to this cluster hiring idea had been that it was unlikely to work. Nice try, but not likely to go according to plan. A source of disappointment then, and another round of flailing a couple years down the road.

    Now I think it’ll be actively destructive. In part, because everything Espy touches is destructive–and because MG has proven no better. Both have too strong a tendency to use bullshit language that obscures (on purpose or no) a simple lack of intelligence, leadership, and vision. In part, also, because stuff like this shows they really are going to go full throttle this direction, actually believe it will make a difference, and then are very likely to make bad decisions with long-term ramifications.

    • Vlad says:

      the initiative would have more credibility if there were clear indications of an understanding of: the ways such efforts can and do go wrong, the techniques to use to ensure that the very best academic judgement is brought to bear on the proposals and hires. old man is right, we got into the AAU in part due to a series of extraordinarily powerful hiring initiatives. however, we have not recently demonstrated that same level of intellectual judgement or discipline. what about listing the names and areas of some of those hiring forts and hold the proposed initiative to the same level of quality and promise? instead, we are likely to get politically balanced committees of various constuencies, with the usual mediocre results. get out the big sticks and give them to some of the people on campus with proven records and judgement to wield the sticks.

    • Thom Aquinas says:

      In addition, both Espy and Gottfredson are OCD about compliance issues; expect red tape and paperwork galore.

    • Conflict of interest says:

      Not *everything* Espy touches is damaged. Her postdoc did really well, with lab space usurped from a building that had been long planned for other purposes. One of Espy’s key lieutenants in RIGE is doing pretty well, installed as the director of the new Prevention of Science Intitute that was formed without discussion and in the dead of night over summer and that happens to be focused on Espy’s primary research interests.

      But the destruction is there, and you are right, Sigh, Espy will screw this up royally in her usual self-interested and short-sighted fashion. How about if we just close up shop until she “returns to the faculty” and her very un-faculty-like gargantuan faculty salary (that has no connection with her decidedly mediocre record as a scientist)?

      Answer: This will not happen because JH admins take care of their own. Gott has proven this over and over.

  3. Same Song says:

    “National conversations are centered around seemingly intractable grand challenges…

    Addressing these grand challenges requires new ways to bridge disciplines and enable collaboration to solve pressing problems.”

    Ugh. Can’t anyone in JH write clearly and persuasively? This jargon-laden bullshit is neither.

    Which is greater – a grand challenge or a pressing problem?

    • Talking points says:

      It’s just the kind of jargon-filled language you find in the presentations of mediocre scientists.

  4. Anas Clypeata says:

    UO: Home of the Cluster!

    I’ll buy that t-shirt. It’s truer than ever.

    …something something ducks something cluster flock…

  5. Same Song says:

    Yes…we could take a cue from Drake University:

    http://www.theawl.com/2010/09/drake-universitys-new-ad-campaign-its-a-big-d

    “UO – home of the Cluster Flocks”

  6. Honestly says:

    The idea of cluster hires isn’t a bad one. Its just tough to pull off. Especially coordinating offers simultaneously. The best strategy in my mind is

    1. Hire an endowed chair
    2. Give them two more junior hires they get to run

    That’s your cluster.

    That does two things
    1. Makes stuff far easier for the juniors to get grants because they have a built in mentor
    2. Immediately helps in recruiting graduate students because they have chair and committee in hopefully a field that we have picked that’s in demand.

  7. Old Man says:

    Honestly (above) supports a cluster tactic with proven success at the UO, as reported in the UO Wikipedia entry:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Oregon#Research_Institutes

  8. Chem DH says:

    As I understand it, the Cluster Hire idea was not KAE’s alone and that MG and SC had significant input. There is a strong desire to “move the needle” (a phrase I have heard repeatedly over winter term) in order to stay in the AAU. Honestly and Old Man are correct – some of our best research institutes started out as cluster hires (e.g., IMB, MSI, likely others). While $2M is not a lot of money, if donors can get behind these hires, then there will be significantly more bang for the buck. A rising tide lifts all boats….

  9. Chem DH says:

    … and $2M is way better than the paltry $50K each “Big Idea” received!

    • dog says:

      while I am a strong supporter of the principle of cluster hires as an effective means to quickly build critical mass in emerging research areas, I am very concerned about these proposals will be evaluated and how any subsequent searches will be conducted. We have to depart from past practices in this regard, and we maybe unable to do that.

      The Big Ideas is a good example of a bad process – insufficient seed funding and a totally amateur review process.

      • anomaly says:

        what do you expect from a totally amateur institution? the only thing missing is the Benny Hill show music at this clown dance

  10. Conflict of interest says:

    Espy will use this as a further opportunity to feather her own nest by directing these funds towards hires in the institute she created around her own research interests. Watch as the Prevention of Science Institute rakes in the favors from RIGE while Gott and Coltrane smile and “endorse” the whole thing.

    • dog says:

      that scenario is highly unlikely – RIGE is not the funding authority for this initiative and the initiative, believe it or not, comes from MG.

      • Anonymous says:

        I can only hope you are right. At one of the townhalls, Coltrane had introduced it has her idea.

  11. bumblefucks says:

    Is there anyone in JH that the faculty trusts to spend $2 million wisely? Of course not. So this is high stakes. Maybe Gott will pay attention this time.

  12. Recall says:

    I maintain if we’re going to spend 2 million bucks, its far better spent making good departments great, then being spent trying to make already great departments excellent. Diminishing returns sets in and increasing marginal costs set in.

  13. anomaly says:

    2 things smell fishy here-

    1) Didn’t MG et al., already solicit applications and decide on the ones they like (aligned best with donor/board interests) last year? Is this a real call for de novo proposals or a whitewash to assuage concerns about a misguided top down initiative and falsely make people feel involved in the process? (before they proceed with business as usual… and after people waste time assembling proposals that will never be read)

    2) The paltry sum of money maybe gets one cluster hire of potentially dubious quality in many of the sciences. $2M is what it takes to secure a single hire in some fields and given how embarrassingly bare the UO research infrastructure cupboard is for areas outside science prevention this seems destined to supplement an already developed area on campus.

    • recall says:

      Is the $2M in recurring dollars, or one time funds?

      If its recurring dollars that would about 12-14 salaries+OPE, combination of asst profs and endowed chairs or senior faculty. That provides for maybe 3-4 cluster hires, if its recurring dollars.

      • dog says:

        yes its recurring dollars, that much should be obvious
        again, there is no directly identified startup pool to parallel this
        investment. There are just lots of hopes …

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