Policy Spotlight: Maintaining Excellence Means Retaining Faculty

Of the University of Washington’s many points of pride, alumni tend to rank “quality” at the very top. Their pride is warranted: the UW is currently ranked 16th in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 review of public universities. But earning a ranking in the top 20 means having stellar faculty – and those faculty are currently ripe for the picking by other universities outside of the state of Washington.

Faculty salaries at the UW are, on average, 9.6% lower than those at eight peer universities, according to the UW Office of Planning and Budgeting. Some faculty and staff are being lured away to other institutions while still others are being lured into the corporate world. One of the more extreme examples of attrition was illustrated last year at Dr. Chuck Murry’s Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM).

The ISCRM is the largest interdisciplinary institute at the University of Washington. Dr. Murry and his team of specialized faculty members are widely regarded as world leaders in heart cell regeneration research. Their approach has the opportunity to significantly change the field of heart medicine and save lives in the process. But last year, the Institute lost 4 top-tier faculty members to universities with more stable funding lines for university research. These more generous funding lines were due to strategic public investments within those states’ legislatures.

By contrast, the state of Washington has not made similar investments that would retain world-class faculty at our institutions of higher learning. As faculty and staff continue to receive better offers, the UW runs the risk of losing top talent just as groundbreaking advances are finally within reach.

The Washington State Legislature can help maintain critical research and innovation at Washington’s public universities by prioritizing a fair increase in compensation. With the cost of living and housing skyrocketing in Puget Sound, strategic investments are needed to prevent the so-called “brain drain” – the loss of our best and brightest professors, teachers and researchers to other states and industries. All six public four-year higher education institutions are calling on lawmakers to make these investments to ensure our faculty will stay – and, in the case of ICSRM, continue to make advances that will save lives.