Regents discuss faculty retention

The UW System Board of Regents discussed faculty retention and adding new doctoral degree programs at a meeting Thursday in Madison.

Though the board didn’t take action on either topic, Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich said it was an opportunity for the Regents to better understand the issues from a university’s perspective.

Because of an increasingly tight state budget, UW-Eau Claire and other UW schools have lost existing and prospective faculty members to out-of-state institutions that offer more lucrative salary packages.

Senior history major Jenny Sessions said she knows personally of two professors who left the UW System to teach at better-paying institutions, one that now teaches at Yale University.

Though Levin-Stankevich said Eau Claire has consistently been able to hire its top choices, it has been difficult to fill all available positions.

That situation could become worse as a growing number of UW professors reach retirement age. According to a UW System news release, more than 2,400 UW faculty members across the state – a little more than one in three – were 55 years or older in 2007-08. Twenty years ago, only one in four faculty members were older than 55 years.

UW System spokesman David Giroux was unavailable to comment.

Levin-Stankevich said rising salaries for entry-level educators has made it more difficult for Eau Claire and other UW schools to attract the most qualified young professors. He said salaries for starting professors are often higher than those of the retired faculty members they replace.

To become more competitive, Levin-Stankevich said the UW System needs the state legislature’s help.

“If there’s any new money, the state usually wants that money to go towards educating more students,” Levin-Stankevich said.

Levin-Stankevich said the legislature’s 1 percent salary increase for UW faculty members last year wasn’t enough to keep up with other rising costs, including energy and food.

“In real dollars, you’re just not keeping up,” Levin-Stankevich said. “We’re in a state that’s suffering disproportionately from economic transitions over the last decade or so.”

Sessions said the legislature doesn’t understand the UW System’s need for more financial support to continue offering high-quality education. In order to boost the economy, the legislature needs to invest in higher education even though it won’t provide immediate results, Sessions said.

The Board of Regents has repeatedly asked the state legislature for faculty salary increases and Levin-Stankevich said he anticipates they will continue to do so.

“Ultimately, this has to move beyond the Board of Regents and become a priority for the governor and the legislature,” he said.

Levin-Stankevich said he and the other UW System chancellors plan to discuss enhancing employee benefit packages with UW System President Kevin Reilly at a meeting next month. Levin-Stankevich said the UW System’s inability to offer domestic partner benefits also deters faculty members from applying or continuing to teach at Wisconsin state universities.

Gov. Jim Doyle had included domestic partner benefits for all UW System and state employees in the proposed 2007-09 budget, but the legislature removed the clause in order to earn enough support for the budget to pass.

The regents also discussed extending UW System schools’ ability to offer doctoral degrees. UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee are currently the only System schools who have the authorization to offer doctoral degrees, which emphasize applied learning over research.

Levin-Stankevich said Eau Claire plans to request the regents’ approval for a doctorate of nursing practice, but also hopes to eventually add doctorates in education and business administration.

Levin-Stankevich said offering doctoral degrees at Eau Claire could produce revenue to deflect the costs of an anticipated decrease in high school graduating class sizes across the state.