Low salaries cost Utop faculty members

Nancy Ngo

Unable to match a salary offer from another school, College of Biological Sciences Dean Robert Elde lost one of his most valuable faculty members last year.
While Elde would not disclose the name of the professor who left, he said the departure is part of an epidemic many colleges at the University are facing because they can’t rival bids from other schools.
Health sciences, biological sciences and engineering are among the areas in which the University has suffered the most and where the danger of losing more top-notch faculty is greatest, said Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost.
To help retain faculty, University President Mark Yudof told the Senate Higher Education Finance Division on Tuesday that the state needed to give $13 million for faculty and staff compensation.
Officials hope the funds, outlined in the school’s $41.5 million supplemental budget request, would be allotted annually.
As part of the supplemental request, administrators are asking for $9 million to recruit faculty in the five academic initiatives the school has outlined: molecular and cellular biology, digital science, new media, agricultural research and outreach, and design. An additional part of the request — $15 million — would help bring in state-of-the-art equipment to entice researchers to stay put.
Losing top faculty also means losing research dollars and weakening departments. It can also have an impact on future recruitment of top scholars, Elde and other officials said.
Elde has been negotiating with four faculty members who might leave for other schools due to more attractive offers. These individuals include some of the most distinguished scholars in their fields who have brought large chunks of funding to the college.
“In the case of two of them, there’s been significant disenchantment about the state of salaries,” Elde said.
According to National Research Council rankings for 1996-97, the University ranked 28th for salaried full professors among the top 30 research institutions.
This summer, the University approved a plan for an average 8.5 percent faculty pay increase for the next three years as part of the school’s operating budget. This is not necessarily contingent on legislative funding school officials are trying to secure this session.
Tenured professors at the University earn an average of $62,000 per year.
In some fields such as the health sciences, losing top faculty also means parting with entire research teams.
Frank Cerra, senior vice president for the University’s Health Sciences, told the committee he has witnessed such losses in his field — and the threat continues.
“We’re under attack now in the cancer-epidemiology and the cancer center,” Cerra said. He said weakening such innovative areas in the health sciences would not only affect the quality of research but funding by the National Institutes of Health that these faculty members can lure.
Committee chairman Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, questioned whether the faculty raises from the supplemental request would be as broad as the University’s last distribution.
“I assume you’re going to do that in some type of a selective, discrete way tied to performance,” Stumpf said.
Faculty raises from the request would be allotted to only some colleges and departments. Officials from these areas would have the jurisdiction to decide which faculty they were in danger of losing and what fields they want to prioritize.
“Raises would all be awarded on the basis of merit. We would not have it across the board,” Yudof said.
Cerra said he is attempting to retain a faculty member who has helped secure $4.5 million in NIH funding. Cerra said part of the faculty member’s final decision will depend on the University’s ability to pay for his research equipment and recruit four team members with him.
The University wants to appease such requests through additional state help and by rerouting existing funds, Yudof told senators. Part of that redistribution will come from administration cuts.
The University is slated to cut $6 million in administrative costs by the end of the 1998-99 academic year. The money will come from downsizing central administration and not replacing retiring employees.
But factors other than just financial incentives play a role into professor’s decisions to stay at a school .
Hiring blue-chip faculty is just as important as merit-based faculty raises to keep disciplines strong, said Victor Bloomfield, chairman of the Faculty Consultative Committee.
“In many cases, the concern of faculty is about the long-term viability of their disciplines at the University,” Elde said.