Recruiting pays off as USC welcomes new employees

Students will flood the University of South Carolina's campus this week as the university ramps up for classes that start on Thursday.

But freshmen and transfer students won't be the only new people on campus.

Officials say the USC system is welcoming about 140 new faculty members this fall, most coming to USC-Columbia. That's 6 percent of the 2,270 faculty members USC has systemwide.

The number of new faculty members is larger than in years past, they say, primarily because of the steady loss of baby boomer faculty members who are retiring.

As baby boomers retire, USC is having to compete for new faculty members to take their place.

Recruiting new staff is no easy task as universities across the country deal with state budget cuts, higher costs and a housing market that can make it difficult for people to move from one city to another.

In this tough economic climate, USC and other S.C. colleges have been spending millions to recruit new professors and to raise the salaries of professors already on campus to keep them from being poached.

"We're competing with some state and private institutions with more resources than we have," said Christine Curtis, USC's vice provost for faculty development. "We compete the best way we can. We talk about how we provide for a welcoming environment where you will have an opportunity to grow and advance."

Curtis said three factors stand out when recruiting faculty:

• Salary. The average salary for a full USC professor at the Columbia campus is $107,200. That's up 24 percent compared to five years ago.

• Modern equipment and a welcoming working environment.

• Support. That includes colleagues who understand or are supportive of their work.

No one wants to be a "Lone Ranger," Curtis said.

Getting acquainted

Last week, USC held a two-day orientation session for new faculty members.

Ninety-three professors signed up for the session, which offered tips on everything from how to get a good teacher evaluation at the end of the semester to how to help students cope with problems.

Housing is key

Curtis said the weak housing market can make it difficult to recruit faculty and staff.

"All of us across the country, here at the University of South Carolina and elsewhere, we're starting to deal with that," she said. "What happens to the rest of the country happens to us, too."

Tom and Susan Weir don't have housing worries. They were able to quickly sell their home in Oklahoma before moving here.

Susan Weir is an assistant vice provost with the primary task of improving USC's student retention rates. Her husband, Tom Weir, will teach advertising.

As some of his younger colleagues expressed concerns about what that first batch of students will be like, 59-year-old Tom Weir, who has taught at the college level for 11 years, kept an untroubled calm.

"I've had that first batch of students a few times," he said.