Are Hire-Backs A Good Thing?


Hiring back well-established, highly successful retiring professors and researchers is common among Land-Grant institutions as a means to over-come economic shortfalls.

In the short-term hire-backs are essential to carry on research programs and allow major professors to complete work with graduate students. In the long-term there may be some problems.

The most prominent problem is that some universities have hired back retiring professors only to be forced by economic shortfall to rescind these offers, leaving critical need positions unfilled. Clearly, this is a lose-lose situation for both college scientists and the university.

Longer term, hire-backs are a temporary, at best, solution to budget shortages that promise to devastate hands-on research staff over the next few years.

Take Virginia Tech, for example. Faced with huge budget cuts and the real possibility of losing a number of professional and support positions, the university offered an attractive incentive program for retirement. In theory, if not in reality, hire-backs are paid by retirement funds, not by tax dollars that support the university.

Short-term there were few other options for the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia Tech. Not hiring these professionals back on a contract basis would have meant their research programs and their graduate students would have been stopped well before they reached fruition. Not offering them an attractive retirement option would have meant losing critical positions to budget cuts.

Among those taking the package are some of the absolute top professionals in their field. Mark Alley, a soil scientist and past president of the Agronomy Society; Scott Hagood, one of the top weed scientists in the country; Pat Phipps, the go to plant disease guy in Virginia and the Southeast; Erik Stromberg, again the go-to guy for grain crop disease problems.

Losing scientists of this caliber would be catastrophic for any agricultural research and extension program. Fortunately all of these folks are being hired-back by Virginia Tech. More fortunately none of the folks who took the Va. Tech buyout were in it for the money—their mantra is helping farmers and agriculture in general,

Let’s hope the hire-backs successfully bridge the economic gap until young, well-trained replacements can be hired.

I hope so, too, but as a former Land-Grant University administrator, I can promise you that severing ties with a contract employee is light years easier than doing so with a tenured professor.

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