Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Flight of the Faculty

There's an interesting article at CNN.com about the large number of faculty being recruited away from UW-Madison: this past year, the number of faculty receiving offers from other schools doubled over what it was 5 years ago. Some of the schools described as "poachers", which is perhaps not the best term, are other large public universities.

The article traces the problem to a salary freeze on what were already lower-than-average salaries compared to professors at peer institutions (but not lower than my full professor salary at a peer institution, UW-Madison professors may be cheered to know!). Budget cuts also resulted in fewer funds for teaching assistants, research labs, and other essential academic items.

In Wisconsin, the state legislature and the university responded by coming up with a retention fund to help keep 'top' faculty, and that seems to have had some success. I think that's great. My university wrote a lengthy and eloquent document about how important it is to retain top faculty, but put no $$ behind it. At the risk of sounding greedy, I will say that it is hard to feel too fond of a place that expects a lot of faculty but does not provide sufficient resources or respect in return. I don't need to make as much as the football coach, (or, to put it more realistically, I don't need to make 10% as much as the football coach), but I do need to make at least as much as my male colleagues who are at similar stages and levels of activity in their careers.

This monetary discussion ignores some other very important reasons why faculty leave, including the phenomenon of faculty flight causing a 'runaway' effect (pun only sort of intended). If some excellent faculty leave your department or program, including some of your most valued colleagues, and then you get an offer or two from somewhere else, it's a lot easier to leave. Decisions to leave are not just based on salary issues. How a department/college/university responds to the initial departure(s) can be very important for other faculty who are considering outside offers. When some faculty flee, those who have not yet fled wonder: Is this ship sinking or is this going to be an interesting place to spend the rest of my career?


Anonymous said...

I think this is great - the fact that other universities are trying to steal best (and often unappreciated) colleagues away. This is one way of equalizing salaries through market forces and making sure best talent gets rewarded accordingly. Most scientists, especially academic scientists - professors, care much more about science than their salaries, which is why administrators can get away with low salaries so easily. Industry is much more fair (and greedy) in that sense.

One comment though - you say that you should make at least as much as your male colleagues - I hope you mean in other similarly ranked universities, not just your school.

Anonymous said...

Salary is a sore topic for me these days. A statistical analysis of salaries in my department showed that minorities and women, and even more so minority women, have significantly lower salaries than our colleagues. I tried to not let it bother me, but I admit that at a recent conference, when a couple of people asked me how things are going at My U, I found myself raving about the town and my research and saying nothing about my department and colleagues. When asked directly I had trouble answering (I'm a terrible liar and it came to a surprise even to me how badly I was feeling about the situation). I know at least one of the people asking is interested in recruiting me, and now going there doesn't seem so farfetched. When I think about myself 5-10 years down the line I do not see myself here any more. Salary is just one bit of it. Seeing my new (male) colleague (who incidentally makes 25% more than I do) be invited to all kinds of social activities when in four years I've never received such an invitation is probably the main thing though.

spacekendra said...

How to respond to this situation is an interesting dilema for current and prospective students as well...As a former Madison student I'm glad to hear that the state legislature and University are taking some serious action.

On another note, I also have a hard time believing salaries are the main reason professors leave - disrupting research, grad student progress, and family is a decision those I worked with would not take lightly.

Anonymous said...

In reply to the first comment--it's great for those getting jobs elsewhere, but one of them main causes of this problem is that the University's budget has been cut so badly that they can't afford to increase salaries. This is bad in all kinds of ways, especially for everyone still there.

I have a friend who just finished his first year in grad school at Madison in one of the fields most hard-hit by this issue. (The chair has been insisting all along that it's not so bad, it's no more than usual, etc., so my friend was somewhat gratified to see a CNN article saying yes, it really is that bad.) He's in an area that ought to be decently represented at any department, but this is definitely not turning out to be true. The person who was supposed to be his advisor is leaving; my friend is too new go with him, most other people in his area are also leaving, and the department wasn't able to recruit new people, despite significant attempts to do so.

He's basically stuck watching his community disintegrate around him, with no real idea of what he should do next. Not a fun situation.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I heard a story about this a month or two ago, but it was about Iowa public universities.

You're right -- it's not all salaries. As someone who has just lived through 4 years of salary freezes, I've been tempted a couple of times. But a department full of great colleagues, struggling together to be the best teachers & researchers we can be has given me a sense of shared endeavor that helps keep me here, for the time being.

Anonymous said...

A topic near and dear to me, as my advisor was almost lured away from Madison this year (huge sigh of relief about not having to be involved in a lab move *again*). Ultimately, Other U. didn't want to make the deal sweet enough.

One thing other than salary that gets discussed on campus is that we are the only Big 10 U. that does not offer benefits to same-sex partners of faculty. This probably does not affect a huge percentage of professors directly...but isn't a selling point either.

anon said...

I just went to a conference in Madison! Great city, I really enjoyed it a lot, although I hear the weather can be quite a lot hotter and is usually much, much colder in the winter. Drinking beer at the jazz fest on the lakeshore was definitely a highlight. The department in my discipline there is not disintegrating quite as much, but I don't think they are in the top 10 anymore. Still, it's a great department that has lots of history and a good future (if managed right after everyone retires).