Data from the University of Wisconsin System showed more than 1,000 faculty members left the state’s high education system between 2011 and 2013, a trend some have attributed to lower pay in the system than at peer institutions.
According to the data, 657 members retired, 491 resigned and 34 were not renewed, making up a total loss of 6.2 percent of total faculty.
UW professor of management and human resources Barry Gerhart said without more data, the reasons behind resignation are mostly speculative, adding they could range from family-related reasons to issues over salaries.
Throughout her first semester in Madison, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank has repeatedly said raising the salaries of faculty members is imperative to drawing and retaining high-ranking faculty to the system.
Gerhart agreed, saying the UW system pays its faculty less than other Big 10 schools.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if an increase at the pay level would be very helpful,” he said. “Now there are some schools that you would expect to get paid more than us like I think University of California, it’s in an expensive area. But, why would Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State pay more than Wisconsin? That’s not a cost of living issue.”
UW-System spokesperson David Giroux said officials know recruiting and retention is a problem for the UW System, largely due to compensation for faculty.
However, he added it is also important to consider what is not shown by the turnover data.
“For example, when we do have turnover, how long is it taking us to fill critical vacancies and what kind of people are or are not applying for those vacancies based on our reputation and based on our compensation?” Giroux said. “These are the questions we will continue to work on.”
In research conducted on business school faculty, Gerhart said that a 10 percent increase in pay is associated with roughly a decline of about 25-30 percent turnover, citing the strong relationship between salary and turnover.
According to Gerhart, faculty members who change universities receive an average of 25 percent higher pay.
However, when asked, many people do not focus on salary as a reason for leaving, even though they are receiving a sizable increase, he said. Although people do not highlight pay, Gerhart said “it’s probably a little risky to understate the importance of salary.”
In addressing this problem, Gerhart said the standard approach is to think about other universities in the UW peer group and look at what they pay their faculty.
In a blog post titled “Competitive salaries are a must,” Blank said the University of California-Los Angeles, Ohio State and the University of Texas-Austin are members of UW’s peer group.
If something like pay goes unaddressed, it is likely to cause problems eventually, Gerhart said.
“So [UW] is a strong university, we can withstand many things but eventually it will take its toll,” Gerhart said. “The university is held with such high regard worldwide, so it needs to be competitive on salary.”