It’s All About the Faculty: Update

May 17, 2011 | Blog

On April 25 I blogged about the claim made by some NBP proponents that the policy change was needed in order to stem the tide of faculty turnover at UW-Madison. In that post I referred to some data from a 1999 report, which at the time was all I could locate on the web.

I have now had the opportunity to examine more recent data (UW-Madison faculty have access to it at the APA website) and here are some updates:

(1) In the prior post, I claimed that there hadn’t been much change over time in turnover rates at Madison. As I said, I was looking at data up til 1999 and it showed a rate of about 5 or 6% (based on number of leavers divided by total number of faculty). The more recent data shows even lower turnover rates since that time– no doubt due in large part to the efforts of UW Administration and the fact that the 2005-07, 2007-09 and 2009-11 biennial budgets provided High Demand Faculty Retention Funds (HDFRF) to address recruitment and retention issues. In the graph below, the blue and red lines show the number of faculty (blue is headcount and red is FTE) and green and purple show the turnover rate calculated two ways (green by dividing # leavers by headcount, and purple dividing #leavers by FTE). As you can see, there’s no evidence that our turnover is climbing.

(2) The percent of our faculty receiving outside offers declined during the 1980s and 1990s (from a high of 7.7% in 1983 to a low of 2.4% in 1999) and then grew again during the 21st century to a high of 8.1% in 2009. However, after a steady decline in the 1990s, our success at retaining faculty who receive offers has increased from 60% in 2001 to 84% in 2008 and 80% in 2009.

(3) Probably due to the state support in this area, the percent of payroll devoted to these retention offers declined from up to 10% in the 1980s to barely 1% in 2009.

It certainly seems that those funds from the state helped stave off an uptick in faculty turnover rates. What isn’t clear is that the NBP–and the Public Authority model in particular– is necessary in order to continue to use funds in this manner. In 2009-2010 we spent less than $1.5 million on this effort.


  1. Reply


    May 17, 2011

    What do we know about trends in the number of offers turned down, either by new or advanced assistant professors, or for lateral (tenured) hires? Do we know anything about lateral offers not made because of salary issues brought up early in negotiations?

    If the NBP does not go through (or, even if it does), as it apparently will not, what will be the status of HDFRF?

    There does not have to be a hemmoraging of faculty for there to be a problem of retention. The question has to be what amount of funds will be needed to stave off raids in the future? On the other hand, money alone is not the cause of turnover.

  2. Reply

    Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

    May 17, 2011

    Hi Michael,

    To address your questions (from here and elsewhere)

    (1) Yes, these numbers include both retirements and other leavers. The percent of retirements does not appear to be growing much, and overall there are somewhat more retirements than other kinds of departures each year, and these are more than made up for by new hires. In 2000 we made 157 news hires, lost 73 to retirement and 44 for other reasons. In 2009 we made 93 new hires, lost 49 to retirement and 42 for other reasons.

    (2) I understand that departures are more common among more senior faculty and that new hires are more frequently junior. I also recognize that there is a great deal of variation across divisions and departments.

    (3) The retention rate of those to whom outside offers were made (e.g. retention/offers) was 73% in 1983, 75% in 1993, 63% in 2003, and 80% in 2009.

    (4) The questions you ask about process (e.g. issues in negotiations) are not addressed by this data. I can tell you that we are made offers of raises based on "purely preventative actions" "where no negotiations were reported with another institution, but the faculty member
    was perceived to be at risk of leaving for an outside offer in the future." 67 of those were made in the most recent year of data (comprising 38% of all offers) and while all were retained, I cannot tell the characteristics of people who received such efforts.

    (5) I don't know about the status of HDFRF in the new budget. If you find out, please let us know.

  3. Reply

    Jason Pickart

    May 18, 2011

    While overall faculty retention might be high, does that matter (I'm asking honestly)? For example, say you compare UW-Madison to a football team, with the professors the team members. If the sports team loses its star quarterback and running back, only two players out of the 53 that make up a season roster, it might not matter even if they keep all of their other players. Without their two stars, they might win seven games instead of nine and ultimately miss the playoffs (which could be likened to whatever the academic equivalent of this would be, maybe faculty winning a Nobel prize).

  4. Reply

    Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

    May 18, 2011

    Hi Jason

    Sure, that's a fair question. But again, there's no evidence we're losing the biggest stars at a higher rate either. Also, while their losses are the ones we often talk most about, there have been some very notable returns of "stars" who've left in recent years.


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