President Ray Watts.

Simply put, endowments are the key to attracting and keeping top faculty, says UAB President Ray L. Watts, M.D. Read a conversation with Watts that gives insight to why endowments are crucial.

Q: What does holding an endowed position mean to a faculty member?

Having held endowed chairs myself, including two here at UAB, I think there are two primary reasons why they matter. One is recognition, because in American higher education, being named to an endowed chair is the highest honor a faculty member can achieve. Second, and more important, an endowed professorship, chair or scholar position generates spendable funds to support the holder’s work—to advance research by funding projects or people in a lab; helping fund work by students in that lab or in the classroom; and to fund travel to professional meetings and conferences that foster collaboration and advance scholarly work.

Q: Why do donors make gifts to create endowed faculty positions?

Every donor has his or her own reasons, but I think the common factor is that our donors truly believe in UAB’s capacity to change the world. They understand that attracting and keeping the best faculty is critical to our ability to develop new knowledge and put it into action. Some donors want to honor a loved one, or pay forward a gift they feel they’ve received, either through their own UAB educational experience or, quite often, from a physician or care team who helped them through a health crisis. Some want to fight a disease that took a loved one from them too soon. And some donors, especially our corporate friends and community leaders, believe that by investing in UAB, they are ensuring that the most talented students will receive a great education from the best professors and mentors, so that they will be prepared to lead.

Q. What’s the difference between a professorship and a chair?

An endowed professorship has a corpus of at least $500,000; for an endowed chair, the minimum is $1.5 million. Each produces spendable income of about 5 percent each year, which is available to the holder for his or her academic priorities.

Q. What is an endowed faculty scholar?

This is the newest endowment level at UAB, and it was created for two reasons. First, this endowment level can help us reward and support our junior faculty as their careers develop. Second and equally important, it also helps put a donor’s investment to work sooner. For example, let’s say a donor commits to funding an endowed professorship at $500,000, and fulfills that commitment over five years. That first gift of $100,000 can be used to create an endowed faculty scholar position, and then when the gift is complete, that endowment can then be converted to a professorship. In the meantime, a faculty member’s clinical, research and/or academic work is supported by the endowment earnings, and he or she receives the honor of holding a named endowment.

Q: How many more endowed faculty positions do you think UAB needs?

As of April 2017, UAB has a total of 218 endowed chairs, professorships and faculty scholars—54 of them created since the beginning of The Campaign for UAB. That includes endowed deanships for the Schools of Medicine and Nursing. As our University continues to move forward, our need for endowed positions will continue to grow. And in every school across this campus, there are many outstanding faculty who are deserving of this recognition, and who would take those resources and make great things happen with them. So until every one of our best people holds an endowed professorship or chair, we will continue to make those a top priority for philanthropic and institutional investment.

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