The University of Rhode Island took advantage of their careful fiscal management by announcing plans this morning to bolster their faculty by 55 new positions over the next four years, possibly the largest hire in university history.

Although which departments will benefit is yet to be determined, the plan to hire has been built into the budget for the 2016 fiscal year and the first new faculty are expected to begin work on campus in fall of 2015.  Provost Donald DeHayes projects that 40 of the positions will be full-time tenure track and 15 full-time lecturers.  These hires are expected to result in new course offerings at the university as well.

“It’s probably the most significant investment in faculty that the university has made, maybe in its history,” DeHayes said.

The timing of the plan is dependent largely on student enrollment, which DeHayes said has reached a stable level. “We’ve reached a nice place in our enrollment – the kind of place we’ve been striving for – and the stability in our enrollment, and our retention of students, and that helps us make this investment,” he said.

Faculty to student ratio and the growth of popular programs will both be taken into consideration when deciding where new faculty will be located.  URI President David Dooley stressed that these hires will be “strategic” and based on enrollment trends and program vitality.  DeHayes said that the expansion of research, teaching and scholarship are all priorities while deciding where these hires will be allocated.

“We want to be thoughtful of where the greatest good can be accomplished with these new hires,” Dooley said.

The initiative is one that Dooley said has received significant support from the university’s Strategic Budget and Planning Council, made up of faculty, staff, students and administrators.  According to DeHayes, the plan received high marks from the council, “Effectively saying its probably the best investment the institution could make right now.”

Since 2008, the state of Rhode Island has cut back their funding of higher education by 26 percent, forcing institutions like URI to make budgetary cuts, largely in the form of staff reductions. “To some extent that was how we were able to balance budgets over the last three, four years, was not having certain positions filled but eventually those positions have to be filled,” Commissioner of Post-Secondary Education Jim Purcello said.  URI officials feel that they are now in ground economically stable enough to begin re-investing in the universities faculty.

“We’ve been wanting to really do this for a couple of years and we now believe this is the right time,” DeHayes said.

Diversity is a factor being considered in these hires, though DeHayes stressed it is not going to be a qualification.  “We have a more diverse student body than faculty body,” DeHayes said, explaining that the plan should bring student and faculty diversities closer together.

Though a tuition increase was recommended in the proposed 2016 fiscal year budget, Dooley and DeHayes both said it was not influenced by their plan to make new hires.  Rather, the universities smart fiscal planning in recent years has allowed them the financial flexibility to expand. “We don’t have to have dramatic increases in tuition or the state appropriations to pay for it,” DeHayes said.

At a time when many universities are facing reductions in staff according to Dooley, he said this hiring plan will reflect positively on the universities values and long-term planning.

“We think it could be a very positive thing for our students, for our faculty and for the state of Rhode Island,” DeHayes said.