Getting Hire Returns

By Emily Gold Boutilier / November / December 2004
June 13th, 2007

When Rajiv Vohra became chairman of the economics department in 1991, concentrators weren’t required to take the introductory course, Econ 11. “There simply wasn’t enough manpower,” Vohra says. “That was very frustrating. That should not be the driving force for the structure of the curriculum.”

Now dean of the faculty, Vohra often thinks back on that experience. He’s a key player in implementing the Plan for Academic Enrichment, which calls for increasing the faculty by 20 percent. “There is a sense of optimism,” Vohra says. “We may be arguing about whether my area is growing more than another, but that’s a lot better than the ’80s and ’90s, when if my area was growing, something else on campus was shrinking.”

Vohra supervises all faculty searches and departmental hiring plans. Fifty-two scholars joined the faculty this academic year, twenty-two in new positions. The faculty now numbers a record high 628. 

This year’s hires include both junior and senior faculty. The social sciences saw the most growth, with sixteen appointments. Vohra says the goal is to become not simply bigger but also better. Because Brown is no longer in a period of “aggregate stagnation,” he says, departments have the luxury of waiting a year or more to attract the best applicants. “After all,” he says, “we’ve lived without all these years. There’s an expectation that we can get higher returns because we have flexibility.” 

To jump-start the process, many new appointments have been temporary. Vohra explains that the University needed time to assess its needs, and that it takes at least a full year to hire a faculty member. “In the meantime we didn’t want to just sit and wait,” he says.

While optimistic, Vohra acknowledges that the possibilities are not boundless. He’s an economic theorist, after all. He has already had to tell colleagues there is not enough money for some good proposals. He takes the long view, though, pointing out that to do one thing, the University must necessarily ask what it cannot do. “Economists,” he says, “think of that almost as a definition of efficiency.”

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November / December 2004