Saturday, April 18, 2009

State 'Brain Drain' Hurts FAU

By: Stephanie Delcorio

Florida universities have been experiencing a ‘brain drain’, with faculty members leaving the state university system at three times the rate in 2008 compared with 2007, according to a United Faculty of Florida (UFF) newsletter.

Over the past few years, a growing number of professors have left Florida’s public universities for states offering higher salaries and better resources. Florida Atlantic University has approximately 25 faculty members leave each year for various reasons. In 2008, the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s university system, approved $65 million to retain faculty and staff for the 2009-2010 budget year.

According to Board of Governors documents, Florida ranks last nationally in tenured and tenure track faculty, falling 45 percent since 1989-90.

“Professors aren’t ‘making it rain’,” former FAU professor Robert Watson said. Watson received his Ph.D. in political science from FAU. After teaching at several other universities, Watson returned to FAU in 2001 as an associate professor.

Watson was denied promotion and tenure (P&T) in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

“It was humiliating and unbelievable that someone of my record and service was not flying through the process with widespread support,” Watson said.

Watson won the distinguished teacher of the year award and the faculty service award twice. According the university’s Student Perception of Teaching (SPOT) reports in spring 2007, 67.8 percent of students said Watson was one of the most effective professors they have had.

Watson left FAU in 2007 for a teaching position at Lynn University, a private Florida university.

Diane Alperin, associate provost of personnel and programs, said she could not comment on specific personnel situations. However, she said all associate professors are hired on a pre-tenured track. After three years of employment, professors submit a portfolio for review by department chair, college committee, college dean, provost and finally a university committee. The committee is made up of representatives from each of the colleges, who make a recommendation to the president of FAU. If the recommendation is negative, professors have an opportunity to explain and refute the recommendation.

FAU salaries on average are 10 percent behind peer institutions, even though each group is funded in the same way by the state government. This has direct effects on the quality of education, leading to large classes and high faculty turnover, which itself is costly and unnecessary, according to a UFF presentation at the impasse hearing on February 24.

“The amount of bureaucracy at the University has increased without any real benefit to students. The legal staff, the marketing and communications staff all adds to cost. I often feel that instead of actually providing a quality education, we are trying to sell people on the idea that we are providing a quality education,” said Sharmila Vishwarsrao, associate professor of economics and chief negotiator for the UFF bargaining team.

“We have offered raises in the context of the economic times, a one percent raise and $1,000 stipend,” Alperin said. “Would we love to do more? Yes, because we don’t want to lose the good faculty.”

University of Florida, Florida State University and The University of South Florida have all noticed an exodus of professors from the state, according to the Board of Governors.

“Academia is a small world,” Watson said. “And Florida has a bad reputation for education.”