In the past two years, hundreds of talented faculty at North Carolina’s public universities have gotten offers to jump ship – and 75% of them did.
Of 323 faculty members at our state’s public universities who received offers from other schools from June 2012 to March 2014, the University system managed to keep just 25% from leaving – taking their teaching experience and research dollars with them. Of the 241 faculty who left, 71 had contracts and grants valued at more than $68 million.
After years of stagnant salaries and repeated cuts in state funding for instruction and research, North Carolina’s best professors and researchers are seeing greener pastures elsewhere. Duke, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas A&M and even schools in Canada and Finland have successfully recruited from the public university campuses in North Carolina.
“UNC sees rise in outside offers to expert faculty,” rang a headline in The Daily Tar Heel in May.
A few examples:
- At East Carolina University, Dr. David Cistola was a rising star in the field of applied medicine, leading a Defense Department study on veterans’ health and securing patents for better diabetes screening. Today, he’s still a rising star — at the University of North Texas.
- At Fayetteville State, Dr. Neal Wagner was a popular teacher who could translate leading-edge research on artificial intelligence. Today, Dr. Wagner — a graduate of two North Carolina universities — is still breaking new ground in advanced computer research. He’s just doing it at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
- At N.C. State, Dr. Orlando Rojas was a chemical engineering professor internationally known for his work using renewable biomaterials in novel ways. He had won more than $9.6 million in research grants since 2004. Now he wins research grants at Aalto University in Finland.
- At UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Jason Lieb published high-profile papers in the emerging field of epigenetics – studying the information in our genome that is not encoded by DNA. His work attracted significant grant dollars from the National Institutes of Health – but now he will attract those dollars to Princeton.
Make no mistake: North Carolina faces a global competition for talent, and other states are making substantial investments.
California State University is planning to hire 700 new full-time faculty in the next year, according to the Los Angeles Times. The University of Illinois recently announced an effort to hire another 500 professors during the next five years, building back talent lost during the Great Recession. And the University of Florida is in the middle of an ambitious plan dubbed “UF Rising,” a multi-year effort to recruit hundreds of eminent faculty to Gainesville.
University faculty in North Carolina have received a single 1.2% raise in the last six years. That’s why university officials have pushed for a long-awaited boost in faculty salaries, along with an expanded war chest to make counter-offers to recruited faculty.
Unfortunately, lawmakers haven’t entirely gotten the message. The budget Gov. Pat McCrory signed Aug. 6 provides no across-the-board raises for faculty — just $5 million for targeted raises spread across 16 campuses.
In response, system President Tom Ross emphasized the public university’s responsibility to provide well-equipped workers for North Carolina businesses and communities.
“Highly talented faculty and staff are critical to these efforts,” Ross said in a statement released after the budget was signed. “As other states continue to reinvest in higher education, our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff will only get more challenging. We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly next session to address the issues that will hinder our State’s future competitiveness.”
An NC State study last year calculated that retention efforts help avoid millions of dollars in costs for replacement faculty searches and tens of millions more in expenses to restart research projects and rebuild laboratory teams. University officials calculate that, on average, it takes $3 million to replace a single departing medical school professor and $917,000 to replace a non-medical faculty member.
That’s because big-name researchers — the professors who bring grant dollars and create both jobs and spin-off companies in North Carolina — are often at the top of other institutions’ recruitment lists.
“The competition for the best faculty is intense,” Ross said last year. “We’ve got to address this issue of compensation for our faculty if we’re going to be successful in keeping the best.”
UNC Faculty Retention Handout – Item 3, Committee on Public Affairs: