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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - September 2021
Provost Jay Akridge

By Mary Jane Chew

A Message from Jay

Dear Colleagues,

I hope these first six weeks of our fall semester have been good ones for you.  For me, I have so appreciated the chance to reconnect with faculty, staff and students I have not seen in-person for a while – some, of course, for more than a year.  The energy across our University has just been palpable – Boilermakers sure seem glad to be free of so many of the health and safety conditions that were part of campus-life last year.  So far this semester, vaccination, testing, and mask-wearing have helped us keep the COVID-19 virus at bay.  But, as President Daniels cautioned in his recent video, the virus is still with us and we all need to continue to be vigilant over the coming weeks to keep our campus safe and open.

One reason for the energy is the sheer number of students on our campus.  Our “census,” which records the official number of students we have taking courses through West Lafayette, shows a total of 49,639 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.  This is a record for our campus, and we have record undergraduate (37,101) and graduate (11,613) enrollment.  You can find more details on our enrollment in this release, but I have said it before: There is no stronger testament to the work all of you do every day than the record number of students who have chosen to study at Purdue.

With a record number of students comes the challenge of providing the educational experience they expect from Purdue.  I have shared information in previous columns on the more than $12 million that we invested this fall to add to our instructional and student support capacity: 200+ lecturers, visiting faculty, Teaching Assistants, academic advisors, and student support personnel have been hired for the fall semester.  We have worked to expand and better equip instructional spaces, leased housing spaces off campus and staffed them as on-campus residence halls, and made many other investments and moves to accommodate our record numbers.

There is one other essential investment that has not been given as much attention: We have been investing in faculty as student numbers have grown.  Some 36 new “enrollment growth” faculty that we searched for last year have joined us this fall.  These 36 faculty hires were on top of our normal “replacement” faculty hires – faculty we hire to fill positions vacated by retirement or those who left Purdue for another reason.

This year, we will search for 84 additional faculty as part of our investment in enrollment growth and 14 Equity Task Force cluster hire faculty.  In addition, we will search for 147 “replacement” faculty positions (a typical number).  Most of these faculty will join us in academic year 2022-23.  (As a side note, the very fact we are refilling these “replacement” positions makes us unusual – many universities are shrinking, not even maintaining, faculty numbers.)

The total of 245 searches represents the largest number of faculty searches during one year in recent memory and likely ever. Adding 84 faculty lines on top of our normal hiring to support our enrollment growth and our growing research enterprise makes this year truly exceptional.  Some 192 of these 245 total lines are tenure-track and 53 lines are clinical/professional.  The clinical/professional lines will help us meet our instructional demands – on campus, in our rapidly expanding online graduate programs, and in our clinical/professional educational programs. 

As mentioned above, the total number includes 14 faculty lines in the cluster hire program funded through the Purdue Next Moves Equity Task Force.  These 14 lines are focused on public health/health equity/health policy and are across four academic units (Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts, Pharmacy, and Libraries and School of Information Studies).  Forty total lines were authorized for this cluster hire program, and we will be choosing a different thrust for the 2022-23 faculty cluster hire.

In my experience, few things can energize an academic unit more than bringing in new colleagues, and all of the new ideas, new energy, new capabilities, and new tools they bring with them.  My thanks to each of you for the work you will do to take full advantage of this opportunity, building exceptional candidate pools diverse in every way, and bringing the very best faculty to our University.

Other investments to support enrollment and research growth are coming online: the Gateway complex in 2022 and the Schleman/Data Science building in 2024.  We have a classroom master planning process underway and a similar planning process for our Libraries, both to help us ensure that we have the physical space we need to support the residential learning experience we want to deliver, at scale.

A big welcome to the 133 new faculty who joined us this year!  And, I wish each of you involved in the 245 faculty searches we have in motion every success as we recruit exceptional new faculty to our campus at an exciting, dynamic time. 

Stay safe and well…