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With more state funding, Chancellor Blank revives cluster hiring program

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Wednesday that the university will revive its cluster hiring program.

Image By: Jon Yoon

The university’s cluster hiring program will be revived after a 15-year hiatus, Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Wednesday.

The program will hire faculty with shared research interests in one or more departments in an effort to increase interdisciplinary learning. The university will begin taking recommendations on hirees and over the next five years, UW-Madison will hire three to five clusters per year, Blank announced.

“We’ll provide substantial central support for salaries for these individuals, hoping to deepen our research strength on critical topics,” Blank said in a statement. “We’ll begin receiving calls for proposals from faculty, research centers, or departments this fall, with the goal of hiring the first clusters this spring.”

While the chancellor called the revival a “hiatus,” Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff Michael Bernard-Donals said the program never actually ended—hired faculty and those who replaced them continued to do research and teach.

The program discontinued due to of a lack of new additional funds, but thanks to more state funding, the hiring process will start again, UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone said. 

Bernard-Donals called the program’s revival a “perfect storm” of campus leadership understanding the program’s past success.

“We were looking to provide a spark for some new research and new programming; it seemed like a really opportune moment to do it,” he said.

Cluster hiring first began at UW-Madison in the late 1990s. In 2002, then-Provost Peter Spear put together a working group to evaluate the success of the program. In their report, the committee found that there were not enough clusters and their length of time was “too brief” to properly evaluate.

Nationally, there have been cases of backlash with cluster hiring, specifically with salary and overall treatment compared to traditional hires. UW-Madison spokesperson McGlone said the university views cluster hiring “as an augmentation” to traditional hires. In addition, cluster hires will not necessarily receive a larger salary compared to traditional, McGlone said.

The 2002 report was generally positive towards the practice, citing deans, department chairs and faculty as proponents of the program, and the committee recommended the university continue it once more funding became available.

For Bernard-Donals, UW-Madison’s initiative to bridge interdisciplinary divides was innovative and valuable given the research that came out of the program.

“I think the results of that are visible in the funded research taking place in some of the successful clusters. I think you can see in the kinds of collaborations between faculty, scientists, artists across department, in new programs,” Bernard-Donals said. “So I think our goal is to match that success from 15 years ago with equal success in this iteration of the program.”

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