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BERKELEY — Slumped in a chair in his office, UC Berkeley law Dean Christopher Edley looks relaxed. But Boalt Hall, and the rest of the Berkeley campus, is a war zone.
Although the economy is flailing and the tattered state budget has dramatically limited the university's ability to hire new faculty, UC Berkeley's top-tier competitors don't appear to be slowing their campaigns to lure away the school's professors. Offers from top private schools are still hitting Berkeley departments struggling to maintain prestige.
"I have three (offers to Berkeley professors) that I'm worried about right now from Harvard," said Edley, who himself was lured from Harvard in 2004 to lead Boalt Hall. "And three more that are likely to develop from top-five schools in the next year.
"It keeps the pressure on, but it's infinitely better than having a faculty that no one wants."
Although the law school, and a handful of others on the Berkeley campus, have more money available because of sharply rising student fees at the professional schools, most of the campus is being bombarded without much artillery to lob back.
The university is hiring half the number of professors it is losing. The erosion is taking place at a time when the administration is trying to persuade older — and more costly — professors to retire, hastening the decline.
Before last year, UC Berkeley usually hired 60 to 80 professors a year. Last year, the campus added 25 faculty members, and that number is expected to hold steady this year, said Provost George Breslauer.
Hiring a new faculty member is not cheap. Newly recruited professors make an average salary of $95,000 or so, Breslauer said, and additional "startup costs" for those in the sciences or engineering run as high as $2 million.
With tens of millions in state funds disappearing from the campus in the past two years, UC Berkeley is hunkering down to protect what it has. Much of the school's limited resources will be dedicated to keeping faculty members who receive offers from top competitors.
The renewed focus on retention hasn't helped everyone. The nuclear engineering department, for example, lost a senior professor to the University of Michigan last year and has no funds to replace him, said Jasmina Vujic, the department chairwoman.
"We're a small department and we need to expand," she said. "But we're shrinking, which is unacceptable."
Even with economic problems diminishing endowments at private schools, including a hit of several billion dollars at Harvard, top state schools stand to lose the most during the recession, said Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors. Hiring freezes at schools across the country don't appear to have ended the elite private-school raids on public-university faculties, he said.
"There's a difference between general hiring and raids," Rhoades said. "The big publics are still very susceptible."
At Berkeley, only a handful of departments — most of them buoyed by higher fees for graduate students — have been able to stay on the offensive in the battle for faculty.
"The only way you maintain excellence is to be proactive," said Stephen Shortell, dean of the university's School of Public Health. "We're actually trying to poach a few faculty we'd like to have here at Berkeley. Two can play at this game."
The same goes for the law school, where Edley said he is trying to survive on a "vicious, bloody battlefield" by hiring new professors while trying to retain his own. But Harvard and the others continue to make fighting back difficult.
"Our private competitors, despite the declines in their endowments, have been as tough as ever," he said. "We've won (retention attempts) many more times than we've lost, but that could change any day."