Your article of Aug. 24 addressed recent deliberations regarding the Louisiana Board of Regents policy on matching funds for professorships. I would like to correct an inaccurate statement and clarify some apparent misperceptions about the value of professorships.
Your article stated that professorships provide “salaries of $100,000 each.” A typical professorship consists of an endowment of $100,000 ($60,000 from a donor and $40,000 from Board of Regents matching funds). Faculty who are appointed to these professorships are allowed to use a portion of the annual earnings from the endowment (typically around $4,000) to support their scholarly endeavors. The majority of the earnings are used to enhance research programs by facilitating, for example, travel to professional meetings, equipment purchases, or stipends for graduate and undergraduate students.
The article also cites a source that indicated that professorships are not particularly useful to LSU. To the contrary, endowed professorships are extraordinarily valuable assets for a major research university such as LSU and they have become even more valuable during the past four years in the face of ongoing budget reductions. Indeed, when LSU compares itself to other leading research universities, a common metric is the total value of endowments, and a significant fraction of a major research university’s endowment is in the form of professorships. That is true for LSU, Texas A&M, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and other great universities (though our endowment is modest compared to such institutions).
It is also important to note that the honorific title that comes with holding a professorship means a great deal to a faculty member. Even if most of the world doesn’t know who George Kent, a distinguished zoologist who inspired several generations of undergraduates at LSU, was, academic colleagues within and beyond the gates of LSU know that if you hold the title of “George C. Kent Professor of Biological Sciences,” it means something special. It means that your peers have identified you as a scholar whose accomplishments deserve special recognition. It is a source of pride for those who hold such a title, regardless of the monetary rewards.
I can point to several examples where the availability of a professorship was the difference in our ability to recruit or retain an outstanding faculty member. The Board of Regents matching program for professorships has inspired hundreds of generous and visionary donors to collectively contribute millions of dollars in support of higher education, particularly at LSU. The importance and value of these professorships to the mission of Louisiana’s flagship university cannot be overstated.
Kevin Carman, dean
LSU College of Science