The following is an evolving list of frequently asked questions concerning the Cluster Hiring Initiative.

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What is the ultimate aim of the Cluster Hiring Initiative?

The initiative is designed to provide central funding to hire faculty in key areas of future research promise and to catalyze innovative responses to new or emerging research  problems that can only be solved through studies that cross disciplinary and methodological boundaries.

It is not designed to back-fill positions that have been lost through attrition, or to fill gaps in departments that have lost faculty in particular disciplinary niches.

Who can propose a cluster?

Any faculty member or group of faculty members may propose a cluster. Clusters may also be proposed by departments, or by a school, college, or research center.

Individuals, groups of individuals and units can propose more than one cluster, though they should bear in mind that the process is highly competitive.

What should be covered in the cluster proposal?

Proposals should:

  • outline the new or emerging area
  • make clear why work in this area can only be accomplished through interdisciplinary/trans-departmental faculty hires
  • explain the innovative nature of the approach
  • describe the extent to which such work is sustainable, and what its applications will be
  • include a description of how the cluster will help bring diversity to the campus, and what efforts will be made in the hiring process to recruit diverse candidates
  • include an outline of the departments in which faculty positions may be hired, and make clear the extent of the support or commitment from these units
  • describe the research, teaching, and outreach collaborations that will result from the cluster
  • describe any space, equipment, and start-up considerations that should be accounted for
  • include letters of support from units adjacent to the area of research represented by the cluster being proposed.

What characteristics do the strongest cluster proposals have?

Successful proposals are clear about how the three faculty hires would work together, and about how the three lines would have synergistic qualities for campus. In contrast, less successful proposals often list three faculty hires that generally study the same topic, but then do not go on to highlight how those faculty members would work together or build on each other’s work. Successful proposals are also very clear in explaining how the new hires would benefit the educational and teaching mission of the university, while less successful proposals tend to omit or give less attention to educational mission. Additionally, successful proposals often begin in broad and engaging terms before becoming more specific, and tend to concentrate either on how the hires would: (1) strategically build on campus strengths, or (2) open up a new and innovative area of study for campus. Less successful proposals fail to identify how other parts of campus were already active in a proposed area, or fail to identify areas of research that seem like useful complements to the proposed areas of research.

Do all three proposed positions need to be in different departments?

Since the program is designed to provide funding for areas of research that cannot be sustained in single departments, it is expected that faculty hired under the program will be in more than a single departmental home.

Do proposals need to include more than one school or college?

No – proposals do not need to include more than one school or college.

Can I propose a cluster of more than three faculty?

No – only three faculty members may be proposed. However, in addition to the three faculty lines, cluster proposals may also include salary support for research academic staff who meet the criteria for senior scientist rank or permanent PI status.

Can I request funds to replace faculty in an already-existing cluster?

Yes – requests to replace faculty lost to attrition in already-existing clusters will require a proposal, and those proposals will be evaluated through the same process as new cluster proposals alongside those other proposals. Part of the proposal should include an assessment of the success of the existing cluster over its lifetime. Funding for requests for replacement faculty in already-existing clusters will be judged on their merits by the Cluster Advisory Committee (CAC); there is no inherent advantage or disadvantage to such proposals.

Can I request funds to hire more than three faculty into an already-existing cluster?

Yes – however, such requests will be considered a lower priority that requests for new clusters/faculty or replacement faculty in already-existing clusters. In particular, the proposals should make clear the reasons why additional faculty in an already-existing cluster are necessary, and such proposals should include an assessment of the success of the cluster over its lifetime. Funding for requests for replacement faculty in already-existing clusters will be judged on their merits by the Cluster Advisory Committee (CAC); there is no inherent advantage of disadvantage to such proposals.

Can I propose a cluster in which one of the three members of the cluster is an existing UW-Madison faculty member?   

No – the cluster program is intended to fund the hiring of new faculty.

Should I include budgetary requests for start-up funds in the proposal?

No – it is assumed that proposed hires of new faculty will come with start-up costs. Start-up funding, however is not part of the central allocation for new clusters under the new Cluster Hire Initiative. Start-up funding should be sought through the normal process of application to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE) with contributions from the school/college and department (consistent with current practice for faculty hires). Recognizing that there will be a demand for start-up costs associated with the cluster program, additional centrally-allocated start-up funds are being set aside for this purpose.

Can a department or unit propose, or provide letters of support for, more than one cluster proposal?

Yes – however, because there are costs associated with clusters that eventually will devolve to the hiring units, departments and units should indicate their level of support for the cluster. Letters of support should be written by chairs of departments in which cluster faculty are likely to be hired. Chairs should use shared governance to help them determine the level of commitment to clusters proposed in the unit or by other units seeking support.

Do I need to get an indication of support from my dean (or other deans) prior to submitting a proposal?

A letter from the dean of the college or school in which cluster faculty are likely to be hired is not required; however, it is expected that proposers will consult with the dean or academic associate dean of those colleges or schools, or from the vice chancellor for research and graduate education (VCRGE) if the proposal emanates from VCRGE-administered centers.

Deans (and Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE)) will be asked to weigh in on proposals once they have been sent to the provost’s office after the proposal deadline, and the Cluster Advisory Committee (CAC) will take indications of support from deans of schools and colleges in which cluster faculty will be located into account in their evaluations of the proposals.

Does the $500K ceiling reflect a per year cost, or the cost for the total five years?

The $500K ceiling reflects the per year cost.

What financial cost commitments must be considered in making a decision whether to propose a cluster, or for a department to endorse a cluster?

After six years in the case of assistant professors hired under the program, and after five years in the case of tenured faculty, 30% of the salary costs of those faculty will become the responsibility of the department that serves as the tenure home. Additional costs to be borne by the host departments include salary increases resulting from pay plan, promotion, and performance adjustments.

In making a cluster proposal, from whom should I solicit letters of support?

In developing a cluster proposal, it’s expected that the proposers will discuss the proposal with faculty members in disciplines related to those in the proposal itself. Once the cluster’s aims have been defined and the disciplines in which new cluster faculty are most likely to be hired, proposers should discuss their proposal with the chair(s) of the department(s) in which those prospective faculty are likely to have a tenure home. Letters of support should be solicited from those department chairs.

In addition, proposers should consult with the deans or academic associate deans of the schools/colleges in which new cluster faculty are likely to have their tenure homes.

What happens after the proposal is submitted?

After proposals are submitted to the Office of the Provost, they will be routed to the deans of schools/colleges in which faculty hired under the proposal will have their tenure homes. Deans will be asked to provide a brief assessment of each proposal, noting the extent to which the cluster proposal fits school/college priorities or areas of emphasis. Deans’ responses will be appended to the cluster proposals, and the proposals will be evaluated by a Cluster Advisory Committee (CAC), a faculty-majority committee appointed by the provost.

What is the composition of the Cluster Advisory Committee (CAC)?

The CAC will include faculty, many of whom were hired under the original Cluster Hiring Initiative, from all four divisions and from schools/colleges in which current clusters reside. The CAC will meet over the course of several weeks rating each of the proposals, and submit these ratings to the provost and the vice chancellor for research and graduate education (VCRGE). The provost and VCRGE will announce the results of their deliberations within four to six weeks of receiving the CAC’s recommendations.

What will a search process look like for cluster faculty in those clusters that are authorized to search?

Guidelines describing the search processes for cluster hiring will be distributed once cluster hires have been authorized.