August 6, 2008

State University Leader Wants to Fight “Brain Drain”

By Scott Travis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Aug. 6--Florida's budget-strapped universities may deteriorate in quality as other states siphon off the most talented faculty, a top education official says.

Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of the State University System, is recommending that the Legislature allocate $65.4 million to help stop "brain drain." This would mean a 4 percent raise for all faculty if spread evenly across the board. The Board of Governors, the policy-making board for public universities, will discuss the proposal at meetings today and Thursday.

Whether the Legislature supports the proposal remains to be seen. The state university has faced more than $130 million in cuts during the past two years because of the state's poor economy.

The university system, which has 9,382 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, loses about 8 percent every year, according to Board of Governors data. Rosenberg said data isn't available yet to know if there was an increase in 2008. But he said he's heard anecdotal evidence that some big players in academia are leaving Florida.

Universities often eliminate the positions to save money or find less-distinguished replacements, Rosenberg said.

"When you lose really good faculty, it reduces the overall quality of faculty," he said. "When you lose faculty, word spreads. It makes it more difficult to get good faculty to replace them."

University employees have only received salary increases for two out of the past five years, with no raise allocated for 2008-09, according to the Board of Governors. The University of Florida last month allocated $11 million out of its own resources to give faculty and staff raises of up to 3 percent.

UF is one of five universities authorized to charge "differential tuition," a rate that is 15 percent higher than schools such as Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Officials at FAU say they don't have any money to carve out for raises, so they hope the Legislature will support the pay increase proposal.

"Deans have expressed to me concern that the talented faculty, if they have the opportunity, they are leaving," said Diane Alperin, an associate provost for personnel. "Not necessarily because of what's happening at FAU, but on the state level."

David Weerts, an assistant professor in the College of Education at FAU, left this summer to join the faculty of the University of Minnesota.

"It was a chance to go to a world-class, Big 10 research university," Weerts said. "And I was able to receive the support to really develop my research."

In addition to a substantial raise, Weerts said he will get help from graduate assistants, grant writers and clerical help. He doesn't see Florida universities investing that kind of money into its faculty.

"Those states have historically funded higher education are going to do so in the future, and those who haven't are not all of a sudden going to jump to support higher education," he said.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, vice chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature needs to give faculty raises. He said the state should invest heavily in its higher education system, which he sees a key driver in the state's economy.

"If we lose professors, we're going to lose students," said Ring, D-Parkland. "We can't afford in the long-term to have a brain drain on our faculty. They're the ones who are going to get us out of our recession."

Scott Travis can be reached at or 561-243-6637.


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