Alum to Kaler: How can the U retain its Nobel winners?

Recruit’em and keep ‘em. (Pete Prodoehl via Flickr)

Last week, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler had another conference call with alumni — this time with about 60,000 who graduated from the Twin Cities campus and are living in the metro area.

It was mostly standard stuff, but one item did catch my attention — the Nobel question.

I’ve heard it before in various circles:

A number of eventual Nobel Prize winners were with the U at some point in their careers. Why did we lose them? Are we just producing Nobel winners for other universities?

(I’m not sure how realistic that is, or how many universities could say that. But I’ve heard the sentiment.)

Here’s how a caller named “Jonathan” put it to Kaler:

“I find it interesting that all three of these now winners teach elsewhere other than the University of Minnesota, and I’m wondering what your plan of action is to address top talent and top teachers and make sure people like that are continued to be held at the U.”

Kaler didn’t quite answer his question. He acknowledged the situation, said the U does its best to keep top faculty, and essentially said that it wins some and loses some.

Here’s his (edited) reply:

“You know, I guess the short answer about this is that we exist in an arms race. People talk about the athletics arms race all the time, but there’s an academic arms race. And we are fortunate to have a large number of extremely talented faculty members. And it’s important for us to be able to provide them with the kinds of endowed professorships … equal to what they would find at prestigious private institutions who too frequently come looking at the U for good people that they can hire.

It is something that crosses my desk once a month. We make counteroffers, and we retain a lot of our very most talented faculty. But we do lose them occasionally to other institutions. And at the same time, we also recruit them from other institutions as well, so it’s a marketplace. But it’s very, very important that we be able to provide the kind of environment and support that our very best distinguished faculty should get.”

The audio of the call is here.

You can read a transcript of the half-hour call here. The Nobel question starts on p. 3.