Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


The graying of UW faculty

Seven hundred and sixty University of Wisconsin faculty are expected to retire in the next 10 years, posing yet another challenge to the recruitment and retention issue at the university.

With predicted retirement rates at more than 50 percent at UW’s School of Nursing, School of Veterinary Medicine and the Division of Continuing Studies, many of these once-young departments will need to replace a significant percentage of their staff with new scholars.

But with decreased funding, the UW System’s strict budget limits the university’s ability to offer competitive start-up packages to attract and hire replacement faculty.


“This is a huge issue,” said UW System spokesperson David Giroux. “Wisconsin is facing an increasingly competitive environment when every university in the country is competing for the same faculty.”

When the number of young Americans attending college began to increase dramatically in the 1960s, universities underwent large amounts of growth, expanding their campuses and rapidly hiring junior faculty to accommodate the swelling amount of new students.

Now, more than 30 years later, “the graying of the faculty” is becoming a national problem.

UW chemistry department chair Robert Hamers said his department is currently suffering from high retirement rates. Hamers said a push in the 1960s for state expansion of universities led to a rapid increase in new faculty who are now at or past retirement age.

“Nine faculty are 65 and older,” Hamers said. “How do you replace people quick enough when you have such a tight budget?”

Faculty Retirement Patterns — the concern for UW

Margaret Harrigan, senior policy planning analyst for the UW provost’s office, which developed a study on faculty retirement trends, said UW’s predicted retirement patterns — which is at 34 percent over the next 10 years — is right on par with other peer institutions.

“We expect faculty to work for 30 years,” Harrigan said. “So every 10 years a third of the faculty retires.”

Despite one-third of UW’s faculty being predicted to retire every 10 years, Harrigan said the age of faculty is higher than in previous decades.

According to the provost’s study, there has been a decrease since 1979 in the percentage of faculty members who are younger than 49 and an increase in the percentage of faculty in the 50 and older age group. Between 1976 and 1996, the average age of faculty has increased by 3.8 years. And most recently, since 1996, the average age of faculty has increased to 49.7, an increase of 0.7 years.

Yet, in comparison to national averages, Harrigan said these findings are not surprising.

According to a nationwide study conducted in the Journal of Academic Leadership by Philadelphia University professor Jeffrey Senese in 1979, the largest proportion of faculty were 36 to 40 years of age, while in 1999 the greatest portion of faculty were 51 to 55.

With both national and UW faculty are retiring at older ages for various reasons, including economic and social reasons, universities are facing the challenge of filling faculty positions at the same time.

The American Association of University Professors said in light of the graying of university faculty, the position openings are not being replaced by full-time faculty — either because additional resources are being allocated to student programming or because some universities, like UW, do not have the financial means to attract replacements.

Repeated state budget cuts in the UW System have limited the monetary flexibility the universities have in conducting national searches and offering start-up packages for professors to develop their research.

“Somehow the state has to take responsibility that recruitment is an operating cost with the university,” Hamers said. “Professors convert the ideas of the university in the intangible ways but also are a source of economic development for the state. We’ve got to have people who will hold the teaching and research mission strong.”

UW Vice Provost of Faculty and Staff Steve Stern said the base budgets for departments are not always stable, making it hard to make a huge monetary commitment to bring in faculty.

“The big picture is we need to develop a healthy climate of recruitment and retention, as well as a healthy base budget we can adapt,” Stern said.

In addition, UW consumer science professor Ann Hoyt, who is also chair of the University Committee, said in an e-mail to The Badger Herald that UW is concerned about “salary inversion” — when full professors’ salaries are actually lower than those of incoming assistant professors because of the monetary offers needed to attract young professors in the first place.

With inversion, Hoyt said, the graying faculty’s expected retirement in the next 10 years could create a challenging situation for the university since open salaries from senior faculty members would be insufficient to hire someone new.

“Without funds to augment retiring faculty salaries, the size of the faculty would have to decrease,” she said.

Departmental Response

Hamers said the chemistry department is continuing to struggle with faculty retirements, specifically in the discipline of organic chemistry.

Last year, Hamers said, the department tirelessly tried to hire an organic chemistry professor but did not succeed because of the competition from peer institutions.

With the chemistry department running at a $135,000 deficit — which is largely a consequence of increased enrollment — funds to hire new faculty are even scarcer.

But Hamers said the department was able to scrape together a start-up offer for a potential candidate, though he is uncertain if sufficient salaries are even enough to recruit this individual in comparison to salaries offered at other institutions.

“Madison has grown more toward engineering and sciences,” Hamers said. “We desperately need to be able to hire.”

As a result, Hamers said chemistry has turned to lecturers, whose salaries are still lower in comparison to other schools, to meet the increasing enrollment pressures. But these positions are temporary and not a long-term solution, he added.

“They are not the same as having a full-fledged faculty member,” Hamers said. “It is a big concern. There is an absence of leadership when individuals are looking for a job for one or two years.”

Marv Van Kekerix, dean of the division of continuing studies, where 75 percent of departmental staff is older than 55, said faculty retirement has a greater impact in his department because of its small size.

Currently, Van Kekerix said, he is aware of one individual thinking of retiring, and the division is in the process of deciding how to fill the position either by academic staff or professors. But he won’t conduct any formal hiring search.

“The real concern for us in many ways is losing the expertise of a faculty member,” Van Kekerix said. “It is sort of hard to get back to the same level.”

Similarly, School of Nursing Dean Katharyn May said nursing has such a shortage of new post-doctorate candidates that faculty retirements hit especially hard because of the limited pool to pick new staff from.

To attempt to counteract this problem, the School of Nursing is now offering an early post-doctorate option for students who want to move directly from their bachelors’ degree into graduate work.

But even with this program, May said, UW is in danger of losing their competitive edge because of salary constraints, as UW post-doctorate graduates may choose private institutions or state universities who offer more attractive start-up packages.

“The nursing shortage is a serious problem,” May said. “The trouble with attracting faculty limits the amount of undergraduates we can educate and can affect the quality of health care we may see in the future.”

Addressing the Problem

UW System Board of Regents Vice President Chuck Pruitt said the graying of the faculty is one of the board’s top priorities, adding the issue will be addressed at their November meeting.

“I am concerned about the national reputation of Madison and the learning experiences for students,” Pruitt said. “Compensation is the problem when trying to replace faculty.”

Pruitt added in the last two state budgets the governor has made a push for faculty recruitment and retention, allotting $10 million to assist with the issue.

But he added sources are going to become more important to pick up the differential in faculty salaries.

“Hopefully, we will see an increase in commitment by the state to help this situation from becoming a crisis,” Pruitt said.

Harrigan said no one is sure where this monetary gap in compensation is going to come from, but faculty salaries are never as high of a priority for the government as K-12 education and medical issues.

“There are advantages to retirements,” Harrigan said. “But it becomes a problem when you don’t have enough money to replace the people and when you don’t have enough positions.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *