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Budget & Planning

Achieving Competitiveness:
A Plan to Recruit and Retain
Faculty, Staff and Graduate Students

While UWM is an urban research university, our goal is to be widely known as a premier urban research university.  To do that at the very least we must recruit and retain the best in faculty, staff and students.  For whatever reasons, we have not made sufficient progress in these important areas of competitiveness.  

Partly triggered by a fine study led by Mark Harris in the spring of 2001, the Faculty Senate asked the Provost to provide the faculty with a plan to address the discrepancies between UWM faculty salaries and those indicated by national data, particularly at the senior ranks.  At approximately the same time as the Harris study, the Academic Staff Committee released a report that called for increasing salaries of academic staff.  Finally, when I asked the Faculty Research Committee to identify obstacles to increased scholarly productivity, that group, chaired by Tom Holbrook, studied the problem and issued a report that indicated the most serious obstacle was low stipends for graduate students.

In what follows I will outline a plan of at least six years length.  It first creates a fund of $2 million to attract and retain graduate students in the next two years. It then proposes a fund of at least $4 million to retain and attract faculty and staff.  

Graduate Students: Central for Scholarship

We all know that within the University of Wisconsin System, UWM is one of two doctoral universities.   Without significant activity at the graduate level we would lose our unique role in the UW System.

More importantly, our very being as a community of scholars engaged in discovery at UWM is highly dependent on graduate students.  In many of our disciplines, research cannot be conducted effectively without graduate students, our apprentice scholars.  In all of our graduate disciplines we need the challenges of post-baccalaureate minds in the seminar, the clinic, and the laboratory.  Without robust graduate programs, we will lose our defining characteristic as a research institution.  

The importance of graduate education was heightened a few years ago when the Carnegie Foundation’s classification of higher education institutions shifted from asking how many doctoral degrees were granted and how much federal funding was secured.  It now asks for the number of fields in which doctoral degrees are offered and for the number of doctorates awarded.  This shift away from emphasizing fields that could secure federal research funding to all fields that could produce scholars is a healthy one.  Moreover, it permits UWM to excel more readily.  But it demands that we ensure strong graduate education.

We also need a robust graduate student population because many serve the campus community as teaching assistants.   Their contributions to undergraduate student education is critical.

We have excellent faculty to engage in graduate education.  But unhappily some of our programs have not been competitive in attracting and retaining graduate students.  We lack a wealthy Foundation that can fund fellowships to attract students.  And for the students supported by teaching assistantships, the stipend levels are not nationally competitive.  To be competitive for the very best new students and to appropriately recognize the fine students currently here we need a major infusion of funds.

To illustrate the severity of the problem, let me mention that at least one of our graduate programs is in such competitive straits that it is considering restricting hiring because the new faculty would not have graduate students necessary to conduct their research.  That department is also willing to consider getting out of doctoral education because it cannot attract graduate students since its financial packages are so meager.  This department is not unique, though it is perhaps the most stressed.  Others are not far behind.

If we do not have attractive packages right now to offer the candidates applying to graduate study in the next few months, our graduate programs will weaken and atrophy.  Our reputation for quality education will continue to lose to our reputation for inadequate funding for graduate education.  We cannot allow that to happen.  

We must find at least $1 million this year that programs can offer as graduate awards this winter for next academic year.  We must augment that with another million next year so that there will be a total pool of $2 million in recurring awards.  These dollars would not be salaries.  They would not be restricted to students who have assistantships, though they could be added to assistantships.  They would be the signals that we are market competitive to match our quality competitiveness.

While there is no denying that faculty and staff are equally meritorious of major infusions of funding, I believe that first dollars must go to our graduate students.  Graduate education is not only a defining characteristic of UWM, it is also a common good.  Regardless of whether a unit has graduate programs or not, supporting graduate education is important for all on campus.  And because we are not competitive in attracting graduate students in all of our programs, we will not be able to rise to the top, which will harm all elements of UWM.  Because of the seriousness and urgency of the graduate competitiveness problem, I ask all to help in addressing the problem.

Faculty and Staff Salary Competitiveness

To carry out the central role of graduate education at UWM we obviously need to retain and attract top-flight faculty and staff.  Along with quality programs and facilities, our colleagues are central to attraction and retention of each other to UWM.  This means salaries that are fair and competitive in the national market.  

We have a start in understanding the depth of this challenge from Professor Harris’ study.  However, we need to refine that analysis.  That study compared us, discipline by discipline, experience level by experience level, rank by rank, to the average.  We need to refine that analysis to bring quality of program into the analysis.  We should not aim to reach just the average of salary for a particular disciple, rank, and experience level.  Some of our programs are well above the average and the faculty in those programs need to be recognized by bringing them above the average to the quality level they deserve.

We have not developed the methodologies to incorporate quality assessment into the salary adjustments we must make.  This is particularly obvious in the case of our academic staff, who contribute so much to all programs on campus.  Lacking standardized categories of rank and discipline that faculty enjoy, making appropriate adjustments to the salaries of our academic staff is very difficult and will require more time to get to solid numbers on how much we need to achieve competitiveness in this area.

The faculty salary study estimated the salary gap to be between $2.5 and $3.5 million for market disparities for senior faculty.  (Since we are market competitive at junior ranks, we need not address those ranks now.)  The report on the academic staff estimated a gap of at least $4 million.

Funding for Competitiveness

The UWM Investment Plan specified many worthy goals for the campus community, among them strengthening our existing graduate programs and developing additional new programs.  It specified that to achieve our goals we need to secure funds from: 1) new state tax revenues, 2) increased tuition revenues from enrolling more students, 3) more external grants and contracts, 4) increased contributions to the UWM Foundation, and 5) reallocations or reinvestments.

It was understood in the development of the Investment Plan that salary issues would not be addressed through GPR since the legislature would not support increases in salary.  Tuition is the source of annual salary increases and could not be a source for major adjustments for selected sectors of the campus.  Grants and contracts are temporary sources of funds and so are not suitable for permanent adjustments.  As a rather young institution we do not have the alumni base to generate sufficient funds in our Foundation for significant salary adjustments.  That leaves reallocation or, as I think we should view it, reinvestment..

The competitiveness plan calls for a 1 percent base reallocation from all units on campus for each of the next six years, starting with next academic year, 2002-2003.  That will generate a little over $1 million dollars a year in recurring funds, so that at the end of six years we will have over $6 million to address graduate student competitiveness, as well as faculty and staff salary compression/competitiveness needs.  In the first two years the money would go for graduate student awards.  By the time the third year arrives we will have a more refined assessment of where the money should go to faculty and staff competitiveness.

The total amount available for salary adjustment will be higher than the $4 million from reallocation.  As we did this year, I propose that we set aside part of the merit increase money in the pay plan to address competitiveness.  This year approximately a quarter of a million dollars was so directed.  I have asked Associate Vice Chancellor Sona Andrews to review how that process worked this year.  On the assumption that the redirection of money to handle compression for senior faculty worked, we would use the same or similar procedures to augment the reallocated funds.


I have raised the outlines of this competitiveness plan to the Academic Deans Council, department chairs, the Academic Staff committee, and the University Committee, the APBC, and now the Faculty Senate.  My intention is to await comment for one week.  Assuming there is general agreement that the problems are serious and the alternatives are meager to nonexistent, I will ask deans and directors to set aside 1 percent of their state budget for next year.  That will permit us to direct $1 million to graduate student awards for next year’s graduate students, both new and those returning.

I intend to ask a group composed largely of associate deans in the colleges to recommend to me by the end of the semester how the million should be distributed to the colleges.  They have the data we collected late last summer on how far behind the various departments are in providing financial support to the incoming classes.  They also will have a sense of how the various departments differ in their ability to attract and retain students with current resources.  Their recommendations will form the basis for my allocating funds to colleges for graduate student awards offered in January in time for next year’s competition for new graduate students.

The details on this plan for graduate students are somewhat spare.  I know that we will need to adapt it as we go along.  To that end, I will report to the campus how the dollars are distributed each year so that we can make whatever refinements are needed.  We will use that information to determine whether the plan permitted us to recruit more and better graduate students.  Lastly, the review will allow us to modify the allocations to balance historical differences that demand adjustment.

With regard to competitiveness for faculty, we need to find ways to incorporate quality into the analysis.  If, for example, in discipline X our department ranks 25th in quality but 50th in salary we have a clear problem.  But if it ranks 24th in salary, we may not have a problem.  I will set up a group to assess how we rank on various national measures of quality to feed into our continuing conversation on salary.  For academic staff we need a mechanism to identify who and where are the comparable positions with which we must offer competitive salaries.  I plan to work with the Academic Staff Committee to develop such a mechanism for UWM.

I ask the patience and support of the entire UWM community as we jointly devise equitable approaches to the serious issues of competitiveness for graduate students, faculty, and staff.  We have challenges here, but challenges that we can meet, that we must meet.