UI hiring 10 new faculty to focus on water sustainability

BY EMILY BUSSE | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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University of Iowa officials are working to draw 10 experts on water sustainability to tenure-track positions by the fall of 2011. With searches underway now, five of the 10 may be here by July 1.

The water-sustainability hirings will be the first group of the 100 new tenure-track positions that the UI Strategic Plan will create.

A committee overseeing the hirings has been working for more than a year on the new initiative. UI administration are searching to fill five slots soon, while various departments will begin the process of hiring the other five next fall. The first round of candidates began visiting campus in February.

“For [water sustainability] to be studied, and talked about, and investigated across campus, we think, is an outstanding opportunity,” said Larry Weber, director of the UI’s hydroscience labs.

The 10 new positions will cost roughly $1 million plus start-up costs, UI Provost Wallace Loh said.

The Provost’s Office set aside funding for the first five faculty hirings prior to statewide budget cuts last year, and it protected the money from any cuts, he said. The five colleges hiring sustainability experts — including Liberal Arts and Sciences, Law, and Public Health — have provided for the new professors by leaving open seats vacated by normal attrition.

Starting 10 new tenure-track faculty positions will not be an issue despite budget woes, Loh wrote in an e-mail, because the university will “cut in some areas and we grow in other areas.”

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The price will be offset, in part, by the initiative to enroll 100 new students each year for the next five years, said Jerry Schnoor, the director of the water sustainability cluster. Officials have estimated the enrollment increase will bring in around $1 million in tuition revenue each year.

Each of the new professors will be expected to join the water-sustainability team of experts already at the UI as well as create courses focused on the topic in their respective colleges.

Though a water-sustainability course tailored to law or geography seems to be a narrow topic, the wide spectrum of sustainability will attract many students, Weber said.

“I don’t see these as being specialized,” he said. “I see them as having a broad appeal.”

Nationally, sustainability has branched into nearly every career, creating new sciences such as “bio-mimicry” focused on using nature as a model for eco-friendly products, according to Forbes.com.

Both the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University have several committees for different areas of sustainability. But Loh said the UI’s proximity to the polluted Iowa River and the campus’ history with flooding makes the topic especially popular here.

Schnoor, a co-director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said enrollment in his class — Sustainable Systems — has doubled in the last year.

If the push for water-sustainability research across colleges is successful, Loh said, officials expect to expand the existing certificate in sustainability as well as create a new major.

“Certainly, sustainability has been in our lives now with recycling and energy use reduction for years,” Weber said. “But we can better understand how water is also a resource.”

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