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Hampton University Lifts Promotion, Tenure Freeze

Trustees of Hampton University, which joined schools across the nation in recent years in slashing expenses to weather the nation’s economic slide, voted this month to lift a four-year freeze on promotions and tenure.

Observers say the unanimous decision by the Hampton trustees signals the university is confident the worst of the economic downturn is behind the university. They say it also means the university is ready to re-energize its efforts to become a major research institution.

“We were very prudent by taking a number of measures to face the economic crisis,” says Hampton President William Harvey, referring to the trustees’ decision in 2008 to freeze promotions and tenure.  “As a result we did not have to lay off one faculty or staff member,” he added. “With the freeze lifted, our faculty can get promoted,” Harvey says.

The promotion and tenure process begins in earnest when the 2012-13 school year resumes late this summer. Still, numerous faculty members who have waited the economy out have already began talking with their department heads and deans seeking guidance on getting the process started again.

Neither Harvey, other school officials nor higher education compensation observers would speculate on how much the university saved by freezing promotions and tenure. Nor would they venture guesses on future costs, noting faculty compensation varies by institution and run the gamut based on rank—assistant, associate or full professor or endowed professor.

At Hampton, a private college with no legal requirement to disclose compensation, faculty salaries are said to start at the $40,000 range and, in some cases, rise into the six figures.

Hampton, with a student enrollment of about 5,500 students, has 339 full time faculty and about 50 adjunct professors teaching in its nine schools, according to Hampton Provost Pamela Hammond.

Harvey and other officials say nothing will be automatic about the resumed promotion and tenure process. They say the rules of the game will be the same as they were before the freeze and conform with generally accepted practices.

Based on the size of its schools, it is likely most applications for promotion and or tenure will come from faculty in the School of Science or School of Liberal Arts. It could not be determined whether the university would give some applicants priority for consideration, as a number of faculty members who were close to tenure when the process was frozen.

Hampton’s decision to freeze promotions and tenure came at a price for faculty, some personal sacrifice by Harvey and Hampton First Lady Norma Harvey, and some strategic moves by the university to sustain its employee community’s loyalty.

When the compensation freeze was imposed in 2008, all university travel was eliminated, except that related to the pursuit of grants. Equipment purchases, except those covered by grants, were postponed or cancelled.

With no sign of the recession ebbing soon, Hampton last year gave all employees a three percent pay increase. President Harvey and his wife, Norma, gave the university $1 million to fund a three-year (2011-2013) cash awards and incentives program for faculty and other staff whose work helped raise the university’s standing on a variety of fronts.

The Harvey family contribution is being used to award bonuses to faculty who have written major grant proposals or been published in major journals. It has also been used to fund other awards to non-faculty for outstanding service to the university.

“The staff helped us weather it,” says Harvey, referring to the fact the university lost few employees over the past four years while the nation was in a recession, despite actions taken to contain expenses. “We had to live within our means,” he says.

Once the freeze was imposed, Harvey says efforts were made to get Hampton employee community buy-in as he and other administration staffers worked to get skeptics to understand why the university was taking, what appeared to some at the time, dramatic action on the expense front.

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