The most notorious case took place last spring. Several schools targeted History Professor Richard White, a MacArthur Fellow who is a leading authority on the history of the American West. After spurning a proposal from Harvard, he accepted an offer from Stanford despite the UW's promise to match its bid.
White's departure sent off alarm bells. Seattle Times Guest Columnist David Brewster called it "a terrible loss. White is perhaps the biggest star in the humanities that the UW possesses."
These departures confirmed what most UW insiders already feared. The brain drain at the UW-a scourge of the 1980s-is back. It's not just history and psychology that are suffering. Faculty are leaving music, mathematics, finance, public health-almost every sector is feeling the pinch.
"It's the worse it's ever been, and I've been here for 24 years," says Steven Olswang, the vice provost who deals with faculty recruiting and salary issues.
"It's worse now," adds the chair of the Faculty Senate, Education Professor Ted Kaltsounis. "In the 1980s the financial situation was not as good for the state. There was some understanding. Now people see the state prospering and we're still going down. That makes it worse for morale."
"I've been here for 15 years and it's incredibly depressing," says Economics Chair Richard Startz, who found it took three years to fill two openings in his department. "It's worse than the mid-80s."
Plenty of numbers confirm their case. The gap between the average UW salary and that of comparable institutions is widening. At 4 percent in 1994, the gap is now at 14.3 percent with little sign of a downturn.
There are other statistics that track the widening exodus. In 1997, the Legislature set aside $2.4 million to keep faculty from leaving and to win battles in recruiting wars. The fund was supposed to last for two years-but after 12 months it was exhausted.
"The differential is so high now between current salaries and offers from other institutions," says Olswang. "It can range from $30,000 to $50,000. Sometimes it's double what they are making here, sometimes more than double. One professor went from $70,000 to $160,000."
And in cases where the UW is able to make a counteroffer, the rejection rate is growing. In 1995-96 only 6.1 percent rejected the UW's attempts to keep them. In 1996-97 that rate rose to 15.5 percent. Last academic year almost a quarter (23.2 percent) left despite UW bids to keep them. Olswang thinks it can only get worse. "We will lose 40 to 50 faculty this year," he predicts.
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The Challenge in Olympia
Beyond the Gap: Other UW Budget Priorities
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