Few universities in these days of tight budgets and competition among programs are adding new faculty in their ag departments. Many have cut ag extension and research faculty.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, after several years of its own budget cuts and holds on hiring, has become the exception in a big way. UNL is strategically increasing its investment in agriculture and natural resources, and will hire three dozen new faculty, according to Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"Those hires will come in subject areas filling workforce gaps critical to the global challenges of the future, including expanded and more efficient food production and improved water and natural resources management."
The world's population is expected to increase from about 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and the challenges of feeding that population are significant, Green notes. As one of the world's leading agricultural producers, Nebraska is the epicenter of these issues, and its land-grant university must be there too, he adds.
Green also believes the move positions UNL to emerge as one of a handful of land-grant universities that will lead the way in solving the food-production needs of the future.
The 36 new positions, listed at http://ianrhome.unl.edu/web/ianr/growingianr, are primarily in the areas of science literacy, stress biology, computational sciences, healthy humans and healthy systems for agricultural production and natural resources.
"We are absolutely convinced that as a university it's time to double down in our investment in these areas around food, fuel and water," Green says. "All of the needs out there indicate that we need to expand our efforts to meet the challenges that are ahead."
Green says the new faculty members will be positioned to where we think it will make the biggest impact. By emphasizing areas where Nebraska and UNL already are proficient, "we're building strength on strength," he says.
While this slate of new positions is "a big bang," Green emphasizes that IANR actually has been steadily ramping up hiring over the last couple of years and expects to embark on a fresh wave of hiring in about 18 months.
This initiative fits with UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman's goal of increasing faculty and student enrollment significantly by 2017. IANR is in a position to do this thanks to eight years of annual enrollment
growth in its College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, record levels of research funding and a strong agricultural economy in Nebraska.
"It's a bold statement that we're making. Some would say it's risky to be taking on this much at once," Green adds. "But I'd say it's a calculated, strategic move that's going to pay off big in the long run."