Faculty Buy-outs and Top-offs

(Updated: May 19, 2023)

Faculty members are encouraged to apply for external funding to support their research, including applying for prestigious Fellowships.  Faculty should remember that they are required to submit all proposals that involve external funding through the A&S research administration office.  If a proposal is being submitted jointly with a faculty member from another school, the A&S portion of the budget must be submitted to the A&S research administration and approved by their departmental Chair and the Dean.  Faculty who are jointly appointed in another school should follow the terms in the MOU governing their appointment. 

Faculty members may receive grants or fellowships that cover a substantial part-but not all—of a semester or year’s salary.  Below are guidelines that govern how we respond to requests to be relieved of teaching and other duties in exchange for grant funds of these types.  The Dean’s Office must approve all proposed course buyouts and will consider only significant and prestigious external fellowships for a top-off. Requests for buyouts and top-offs should be prepared by the faculty member and forwarded to the Associate Divisional Dean by the departmental Chair with the Chair’s rationale for approval as soon as the issue arises.   

Buyouts of one course 

The price of a buyout of one course is one-sixth of a faculty member’s nine-month salary and fringe benefits at the full faculty rate, or one-half of the annual nine-month salary plus fringe divided by the faculty member’s annual course load—whichever is larger. 

For example, if a faculty member whose standard load is 2-2 earns $100,000 a year, the cost of a buyout of one course will be 16.67% of $128,300 (salary plus benefits at the 2021 rate), or $21,388.  A faculty member with the same salary from a department with a 1-1 standard course load will need grants equal to 25% of salary and fringe, or $32,075. 

Please keep in mind the following conditions: 

  • A faculty member buying out of a course will be expected to participate fully in service and administrative duties; the buy-out is strictly for teaching and must not be construed as approval for a full-time appointment to research. The policy outlined in this document is for partial release from coursework while a person is in residence at the University and fulfilling all other duties, except for the one course. 

  • If a faculty member’s course load is not symmetric (i.e., not constant across semesters), a course buy-out cannot be done for the semester in which the course load is lighter.  For example, if a faculty member teaches one course in one semester and two courses in the other, the one-course buy-out must be for the semester in which the higher load is taught. 

  • A faculty member may buy out of no more than one course per year, except when approved for a full semester release under conditions spelled out below in the next section. 

  • A course buy-out cannot be used in conjunction with an appointment to research leave such as a Sesqui and Endowed Chair leave, or educational leave, administrative leave, and leave without pay.   

  • It is the faculty member’s responsibility to ensure that the fund source is adequate for the buyout.  Insufficient buyout funds will not be topped off.  If two or more grants are being used to fund a buyout, the combined budget must be sufficient to cover the actual cost per policy.  If two grants are funding separate course releases, the cost would be the full semester rate, or 25% if distributed across two semesters, not 2/6th the salary plus fringe rate. The budgets in the grants must reflect this. 

  • A faculty member wishing to buyout a course in the next academic year must inform their chair as early as possible.  The Chair may deny the request if it comes too late to allow for accommodation of the teaching need in the semester in question.  

  • Funds originating in the College may not be used for buyouts unless designated for that purpose or otherwise authorized by the Dean. 

Semester or Full Year Buyouts  

The price of a full buyout for an academic year or one semester is 100% of the salary plus fringe for that period.  In this case, the buyout is considered to excuse the faculty member not only from teaching but also from service for the period of the buyout, and residence at the University of Virginia is not required. 

Semester or Full-year Top-offs 

Upon request, the Dean’s Office may consider “topping off” an external research fellowship grant that lacks the funds to support the 100% salary plus fringe requirement for a full semester release.  A top-off then allows the faculty member to spend the semester working on his or her research full-time, but top-offs will only be considered if the external grant is significant and prestigious, as defined below. 

  • The top-off will be no larger than the size of the grant or the sum needed to bring salary up to 100% of the faculty member’s normal salary plus fringe benefit for a semester or academic year, whichever is less.  If a faculty member earning $100,000 ($128,300 with fringe) receives a grant providing $30,000, the top-off will be no more than $30,000 inclusive of fringe benefits and the period of approved educational leave will be only one semester.  If the faculty member’s grant comes to $80,000 (more than 50% of academic year salary and fringe), the top-off may be up to $48,300 toward the cost of salary and fringe benefits. 

  • The grant or fellowship must also be competitive, well-known for the rigor of its selection process, and have a tradition of awarding grants to excellent scholars sufficient to ensure that the faculty member’s receipt of this award will bring significant prestige to the College. 

  • As the purpose of a top-off is to support significant research activity, in general top-offs are available only to tenured and tenure track faculty. Research faculty supported in whole or in part by contingent funding are not eligible for a top-off. 

  • The College will consider all requests for top-offs and allocate a budget for this purpose. Examples of fellowships likely to be considered prestigious are the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation grants, NEH grants, Sloan Foundation grants, ACLS fellowships, National Humanities Center, Fulbright, and Packard fellowships. 

  • When applying for Fellowships, faculty members are required to inform their departmental Chair.  They should not assume that a top-off will be approved and should make no such representation to the Fellowship program in the application. The A&S research administration office should be consulted as early in the process as possible.  If the Fellowship does not have sufficient funds for a full buy-out or full top-off, the faculty member may take educational leave with partial pay. 

The resulting courses lost to buyouts by grants or fellowships should be recorded on the CBP spreadsheet for the department.   The department should not assume that course replacement funds will be available and should plan the curriculum accordingly.