At least seven high-profile professors who are leaving the political science department have some University of Wisconsin officials worried about a growing trend across campus.
According to Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science, some departures are due to retirement, including political science department chair Graham Wilson, professor Pat Riley and professor Herbert Kritzer.
More startling to the department, Sandefur said, are those heading to other universities. Professor David Leheny will start at Princeton in the fall, professor Jon Pevehouse will be leaving for the University of Chicago, professor Joe Soss to Minnesota and professor Virginia Sapiro, former interim provost, to Boston University.
"It's very unusual to have this many faculty leave one department in one year," Sandefur said. "In my three years as dean, we haven't seen that happen. The turnover has been about 5 percent for the past few years. We're talking about 20 percent of the department leaving in one year."
Sandefur said current data suggests that UW's median salary is about 10 percent below its peer institutions, including UCLA, Berkeley and Michigan.
"I think one thing to remember is the market forces are very competitive. So to recruit the best faculty, we have to pay competitive salaries, and we're not doing that," Sandefur said. "Until we can make it more competitive, we'll be vulnerable to this from other institutions."
According to Wilson, who will join his wife, Sapiro, in relocating to Boston, the university has a policy of offering counteroffers in an attempt to retain faculty, but UW only succeeds about 60 percent of the time.
Wilson said the large number of professors leaving is a "wake-up call" to the state to continue fighting for higher salaries.
"The state has got to pay attention to the need at the university because with an international marketplace, you can't just sit back," Wilson said. "It's a powerful reminder to the state that you could see big problems if they don't commit to keeping it at the top internationally."
With Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's budget still in committee and scheduled to be passed later this summer, UW System spokesperson David Giroux said he is hopeful a $7 million fund aimed at faculty retention is included to help alleviate similar situations occurring all over the state.
"It's been a trend, and it's growing. It's not just UW-Madison. It's every one of our UW campuses," Giroux said. "Salaries are low, our benefits are good generally speaking, but unlike other Big Ten institutions, we're unable to offer domestic partner benefits."
According to Wilson, the future is not as bleak as some in the department see it. He said four professors are due to arrive next semester from Harvard, Pennsylvania, Southern California and Grinnell College in Iowa.
"I grieve over those people leaving, but it's like any international marketplace," Wilson said. "We've got four great people coming through the door as opposed to going out."
Political science professor Donald Downs, however, said the "real hemorrhaging" of faculty members leaving has some wondering about the future of the department.
"Its disillusioning — you need to start rebuilding areas," said Downs, a 22-year veteran of the political science department. "It creates a sense of concern, and it makes you worry about things you weren't worried about before. It saps your energy."
Downs added that the university-wide problem has several contributing factors, including a "coastal effect," where large endowments are only available at high-profile campuses.
Pevehouse said his offer from the University of Chicago was too hard to turn down, despite the valued time he spent with UW colleagues and undergraduates.
Pevehouse said he did not think there was a systematic failure on UW's part in his departure, and he added that it is a good sign that elite colleges look to UW for professors.
"It was a very difficult decision for me. They did as well as they could to match my offer," Pevehouse said. "Political science has lost people, but we're losing them to good places. In some places, you want to be at a place where occasionally you get raided."