'Brain drain' takes toll on political science dept'
Tuesday September 11, 2001
Loss of key faculty results in larger, more crowded classes
Editor's note: This article is part of the Wildcat's continued coverage of a UA issue known as "brain drain," the loss of faculty to higher-paying jobs at other institutions.
Students taking courses in the UA political science department this fall were faced with larger class sizes and less class availability after 10 courses were canceled due to the effects of "brain drain" - a loss of instructors to higher-paying institutions.
William Mishler, head of the political science department, said brain drain has limited the range, number and quality of courses available to students this year.
"We were canceling classes left, right and center this fall because we just didn't have (faculty) to fit into them," Mishler said. "And that is even after using graduate students to teach a few independent classes, which is something we don't like to do.
"It was either do that or turn out hundreds of other students onto the streets without a course they might need for graduation," he added.
Kelly Ward, a political science senior and student worker in the department office, has seen several frantic students who have come in after having their classes canceled.
"First we were slowly bleeding to death. Now the blood is just gushing."
- William Mishler, political science department head
Ward said none of her courses were canceled, but she has heard about the brain drain problem from other students in the department.
Mishler said every upper-division class was closed before the semester began, which made it nearly impossible for students to add a course.
Last year the department lost seven instructors, three of them to outside offers. Over the past two years, the department lost two more faculty members to other institutions.
In the meantime, the department has only hired three instructors, resulting in a net loss of six faculty members.
Ten classes had to be canceled this semester as a direct result of brain drain, and remaining courses had to be increased in size by 15 percent to 20 percent, which harms the quality of the courses, he said.
"We're so squeezed for bodies. Just to make sure you get into a class you may need for graduation, we have to pack you into classes in ways that we know diminish the quality of the course," Mishler said.
He said in larger classes, professors are less likely to assign papers, they have less time to write extensive comments and in some, they have to give objective exams rather then essay exams.
George Davis, university provost and vice president for academic affairs, said there is an urgent need to call attention to brain drain, but remaining faculty, who have stayed loyal to the university, need to be recognized.
"What makes the dynamics very complicated is the 'brain drain' term puts attention on those leaving," he said. "The attention also needs to be put on the faculty who could go elsewhere and are choosing to stay here."
Davis said those instructors are staying at the university even though it might be costing them.
"It would be awful to create a sense that faculty that chose to stay there are individuals that can't go elsewhere," he said.
Mishler said some faculty are choosing to stay due to advantages at the University of Arizona - like a strong department, a good environment and bright students.
However, he said over the past five years, the market for political science instructors has exploded, and salaries for faculty with doctorates has increased by $15,000 to $20,000 a year - making it difficult to hold on to senior faculty members when UA salaries are sometimes $40,000 less a year than other institutions.
Mishler pointed to one case, in which a married couple - Lyn Ragsdale and Jerry Rusk - left the university for an offer at another institution where they are making a combined $80,000 more.
"To put that into perspective, we don't even have very many faculty making $80,000," he said. "Only a few senior faculty are paid that amount."
Mishler said the effect of brain drain has been demoralizing to the department. In some cases, instructors are retiring early because of the loss of morale the remaining faculty has felt.
"People we used to teach with and do research with are gone," he said. "There are terrific people being hired, but it's going to be five, 10 years or more before they match up to the senior professors we've lost."
In some cases, new instructors are leaving after brief stays at the UA, Mishler said.
Mishler also said problems arise when the department is able to retain faculty, and instructors with less seniority end up with higher salaries than others simply because they explored outside offers.
Davis said the university must respond to retention problems with specific faculty, but also work toward across-the-board salary raises in order to combat the problem.
He also agreed that student-teacher ratios need to be kept down, and that the university needs to work toward attracting a greater group of instructors - including both junior and senior faculty.
"The problem is not that the university does not recognize the seriousness of the issue," Mishler said. "But they can only do so much."
Instead, Mishler said the State Legislature needs to realize that the university is vital to the economic success of the state.
"They have seriously under-funded the university, and they have done so repeatedly over time," he said.
Mishler and Davis both agreed that state dollars need to be increased, in addition to potential tuition increases.
"When you take a look nationally at what students pay and what states contribute, it puts into perspective how we have begun to lag behind in funding," Davis said.
In the meantime, the political science department is aggressively searching for faculty - most recently at a convention in San Francisco - but the department has a host of schools, which pay thousands more a year, to compete with.
"First we were slowly bleeding to death," Mishler said of the department. "Now the blood is just gushing."