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Endowed chairs, professorships play key role in top-flight universities

When Linda Katehi was named dean of the Purdue Schools of Engineering in September, it was announced that she would hold a named chair as the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering.

Purdue alumnus and trustee John A. Edwardson pledged $1.5 million to endow the position.

In today's competitive academic environment, universities use endowed academic chairs and professorships – the ultimate peer recognition for faculty – to reward, retain and recruit top scholars for exceptional performance in teaching, research and service.

Underscoring their strategic importance, Purdue President Martin Jischke calls endowed professorships "one of the measures of a world-class university."

Provost Sally Frost Mason says an increase in the number of endowed chairs and professorships is essential.

"If we look at our peers, especially those that we aspire to be like, it is clear that Purdue does not have a competitive advantage in this arena," Mason says. "In order to be competitive in today's market, Purdue needs to increase its commitment to supporting a world-class faculty. If we are to reach the next level, we must be able to recruit and retain the top talent in all faculty ranks."

Purdue has 68 distinguished and named professorships that are fully endowed, partially endowed or annually funded. By contrast, Indiana University has 347. The University of Illinois has 219; the University of Michigan, 245; Penn State University, 208; Georgia Institute of Technology, 76.