THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
Letters to the Editor, March 1999
The State Should Be Ashamed
As a 1988 Ph.D. graduate of the UW's Department of Anthropology, your well-written Brain Drain article (Dec. 1998) evoked strong reactions. I have believed for years that the UW's paradoxical combination of (a) a prosperous, compelling Pacific Northwest setting and (b) low, non-competitive faculty salaries have long frustrated many people-faculty and students alike.
I can remember back in the late 1970s, as a beginning graduate student, hearing horrific, anecdotal stories about senior anthropology professors who were paid shockingly small salaries. This had apparently been going on for years, and one detected a residual low morale and strained horizons. I recall a few "star" faculty who left (no, fled) during the 1980s for Michigan, Harvard and other ethnographic dreamlands, leaving behind a depleted department and not a few now-mentorless graduate students in limbo. Those of us who remained tried to prevail, knowing all the while that events didn't bode well for our own, always highly status-dependent academic careers. Now and then a "hot" new, highly paid assistant professor would be brought in from a "big-name" graduate department (e.g., Michigan, Chicago, Stanford, Arizona), and I can imagine the resulting chagrin that must have been felt by those long-serving, often full professors whose salaries still remained low, even as the flush kids arrived.
I can only assume that the department's long (and often otherwise honored) history of mean little wages, internecine warfare (during the nasty McCarthyite '50s), revolving faculty doors, and declining departmental ratings (and, let's be candid, graduate student qualifications) must have deflated the faculty's expectations for its own graduate students. And this, in academia, is the kiss of death. After all, success breeds success, and penny-pinching resentment will induce a reduced sense both of faculty commitment and of faculty capacity (to help place young scholars).
It remains inconceivable to me (although I recognize that there are tough statewide political realities at play) that the majestic Seattle area, a place of staggering (even quite excessive) affluence, entrepreneurship and late-20th century "cutting edge" technology, should remain such a professorial graveyard. The state of Washington should be ashamed.
Michael C. Reed, '88
Talent Sitting in the Wings
I had mixed feelings after reading "The Brain Drain" in Columns' December issue. On one hand, I understand the adverse impact of losing faculty members to other schools, and the frustration of consuming two or more years recruiting replacements. On the other hand, I too have experienced frustration in the process of completing B.A. and M.A. degrees (both from Washington) plus a Ph.D. (and three-fourths of a second Ph.D.) from another West Coast university, all by 1978, and then being unable to find a faculty position anywhere. Remember the Ph.D. glut? I was evidently part of it. As a result, I and many other well-prepared and fully qualified would-be faculty members accepted the challenge of building careers outside of academe.
Twenty years later I and my off-campus colleagues have accumulated significant experience as managers, lecturers, business entrepreneurs, professionals, actively publishing authors, consultants, subcontractors, and adjunct faculty members teaching graduate and undergraduate courses for universities, colleges and community colleges. Personally I would love to fill one of the vacated positions and have been trying to do so for several decades now. At the risk of sounding bitter, I have to admit that I just can't work up any real sense of empathy for dollar-chasing faculty members, or the competing universities trying to acquire them. In the business world, competition and job changing are the norm. Both parties do what they have to do and then move on. We are all replaceable.
Faculty recruiters, please open your eyes. There are talented, highly competent, terminally degreed, potential faculty members all around you and every other university. True, most of us are no longer 25 years old, but as we actually do research and publish articles, teach classes as adjuncts, have enormous amounts of practical experience, and would love to finally achieve a career goal that a variety of factors-including demographics, cutbacks in 1970s higher education budgets and compulsory military service-combined to block many years ago. There is absolutely no reason to spend years trying to fill faculty positions when there is this much talent sitting in the wings.
Gaylord Reagan, '70, '71
Starving the University
Thanks for your "Brain Drain" article in your December issue. I have read it twice and got motivated to come alive with a couple of dollars for your President. I wrote a note of thanks for your article, which made me aware that our state politicos starve the University only so much, and then you start to lose faculty. My past attitude has been, if you need more money, go to Olympia.
Of all the collegiate alumni magazines I've ever read, you put out the best, most universal issues, and I did work for two years for a Christian college as a fund raiser. All of your stories and articles in the December issue were appealing to all kinds of scholars and graduates. I found your variables are equal to, or better than, Time or Newsweek, to say nothing of the colorful pictures and methodical arrangements of article and stories. I hope the UW treats you nicely, lest we lose you.
Bob Felts, '31
Scholarship with an Open Mind
Kudos on your article Martyrs, Myths and the Mighty [Dec. 1998]. I have to admit my bias as a graduate of the UW and now as a pastor. People like me, who believe in Christianity, have nothing to fear from honest and open-minded scholarship. I have often told people that the best theology course I had was the "History of Christianity" course taught by then-History Chair Donald Treadgold. I found in Professor Treadgold 20 years ago and in your article's Professor Rodney Stark a similarity. Both men were outstanding professionals in their fields, and they were also able to approach the topic of the early Church with an open mind.
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