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UW spends $23.6 million to retain faculty after spike in outside offers

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In hopes of keeping more than 140 faculty members who were recruited by other universities, UW-Madison officials said the school spent $23.6 million in the last year on retention efforts.

An annual retention report released Friday demonstrated what Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf said she knew already, that many more faculty are being recruited than usual—a rise of roughly 40 percent from last year.

The numbers follow a few tumultuous years for university faculty, who saw their tenure rights stripped from state statute and watched as the legislature slashed $250 million from the system’s budget.

“I heard from my colleagues at meetings, ‘Oh, we’re going to try to raid Wisconsin,’” Mangelsdorf said. “I do think other universities thought it was a strategic time to try to recruit some of our faculty.”

Of the total 232 efforts to retain tenured and tenure-track faculty since July 2015, 144 of those efforts were in response to active offers from from other universities and the remaining 87 were pre-emptive moves for faculty “with a high likelihood of being recruited away,” the report said.

Despite the university’s actions, 29 faculty members turned down a UW-Madison counteroffer and left the school. Around five more did not wait for a counteroffer before leaving, officials said, though that number could be higher and is not tracked in the annual report.

More than three-fourths of faculty recruited elsewhere chose to stay, however, which Mangelsdorf said indicates loyalty as well as the aggressive efforts the university made to keep them around.

Although $1.86 million of the total spent on retention efforts went to recurring salary increases, the rest took the form of one-time incentives to support research and scholarship.

Much of that funding came from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and other gifts to the university, although the school itself reallocated existing state funding to address the retention issue Chancellor Rebecca Blank knew would come, Mangelsdorf explained.

Recruitment cases have also been falling in the last five years—leading to only 69 accepted offers versus numbers in the hundreds in earlier years—something Mangelsdorf attributed to declining state funding for the university.

In addition to promoting a campaign that could potentially increase gifts to the UW System, Mangelsdorf said she hopes the state will accept the system’s $42.5 million funding request that could help boost recruitment tactics.

“If you don’t have as much money to hire people, you don’t have as much money to hire people,” she said. “Any new money we would get from the state would be very helpful.”

WARF’s donation to the university was “somewhat larger” during the past fiscal year, according to Petra Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for administration, which helped produce the one-time incentives for faculty members doing research.

But Mangelsdorf said the foundation is not an unlimited resource, adding that she hopes the bulge in outside offers declines to a more typical level and recruitment efforts for new faculty become aggressive again.

“Lots of things about it are unpredictable, but certainly we will do our best with the resources we have,” Mangelsdorf said. “We’d like to think that we really made a strong statement, that we will fight to keep our faculty.”

Update Oct. 17, 11:00 a.m.: An earlier version of this article referred to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Association. The group mentioned is the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

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