Univ. offers buyout packages to nearly 40 SEAS professors

The university is offering buyout packages to 39 full-time professors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science as part of a move to increase the school’s research presence, officials confirmed this week.

All full-time faculty on active status  were mailed letters on Oct. 22, and those professors offered the package – those who joined the SEAS staff before 1994 – have until Jan. 29 to accept the “voluntary separation incentive program,” SEAS Dean David Dolling said in an e-mail.

The 39 faculty members offered the package comprise about half of the 83 full-time faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research’s Web site.

Already SEAS is gearing up to hire new faculty to replace those who may accept the buyout. In an interview earlier this month, Dolling said SEAS will be hiring 14 new “top-tier” professors in the coming year.

According to professors who received the buyout letter, GW’s increasing focus on research was named as a reason for the buyout program.

“This program is being instituted in anticipation of the ongoing academic evolution of The George Washington University as a major research university, in which the faculty will be expected to have significantly enhanced externally funded research activity,” Dolling said.

University President Steven Knapp said in an e-mail that he supports the program but does not see a connection between the Science and Engineering Complex – an expensive building expected to house research and academic spaces – and this buyout.

“As far as I am aware, this program is independent of the proposed new science and engineering facility, except insofar as improving our academic facilities across the board is part of our general process of continuing to build the university’s stature,” Knapp said.

Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Don Lehman said the buyout came from recommendations released in 2008 by the Commission on the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“What we’re basically doing is implementing a recommendation that was in that commission’s report,” Lehman said.

Knapp said he is unaware of plans by other university deans to offer buyout packages to faculty in other disciplines.

Lehman referred to the SEAS commission report when asked about the possibility for other faculty to receive buyouts, reiterating that the commission – which was staffed by professors and administrators – recommended this program.

Improving the University’s research status has been one of Knapp’s focuses since he came from Johns Hopkins University – one of the country’s premier research institutions – in 2007. The Innovation Task force was launched in part to provide additional funds to research and Knapp appointed Dr. Leo Chalupa to the newly created position of Vice President for research in 2009. The Science and Engineering Complex – a project which was in the works before Knapp’s tenure – is expected to improve research as it will provide a physical space the University hopes will be used for top-tier studies.

Dr. Murray Loew, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, was offered the buyout but has yet to decide if he will take the package.

Loew – who came to GW in 1978 – said he believes the letter made it clear that GW was looking to make room for professors who focus on research.

“The letter made clear, albeit, in one sentence, in the first or second paragraph that the rationale is ‘in view of the University’s increasing emphasis on research,’” Loew said. “The message is pretty clear that people who are not research-active are probably the main people being encouraged.”

Another faculty member who was offered the buyout, Simon Berkovich – who has been at GW for 30 years -, feels GW is pressuring faculty members to leave.

“There will be negative consequences if the buyout is not accepted; the pressure is already exercised,” he said.

Dolling said there would be no consequences for faculty who do not take the package, as it is voluntary.

The amount offered in each package varies by time served at GW. If a faculty member came to the University from Aug. 1960 to July 1979 they will receive double their 2009 base academic-year salary. From Aug. 1979 to July 1986, 1 1/5 their 2009 base academic-year salary; from Aug. 1986 to July 1990, their 2009 base academic-year salary; and from Aug. 1990 to July 1994, half their 2009 base academic-year salary.

The American Association of University Professors released a report for the 2008-2009 academic year that said GW pays full-time professors an average of $134,700 a year.

If faculty members choose to accept the proposed buyout plan, they will be able to keep the retirement benefits they have incurred while working at the school, Lehman said.

“The University doesn’t own their retirement benefits,” Lehman said. “If faculty members choose to accept the proposed buyout plan, it, of course, has no impact on their accumulated [403(b)] retirement benefits gained through their employment at GW.”

At GW, employees contribute to their own retirement plans but after they have worked at GW for two years of full-time service they are eligible to enroll in a base retirement plans where the University contributes up to 4 percent of their base salary to the plan. Additionally, for each 1 percent of salary that employees contribute, GW will contribute an additional amount equal to 1.5 times the employee’s contribution, up to a total university contribution of 10 percent.

Faculty who accept the buyouts will be able to choose when they would leave, with the latest departure being spring 2011.

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