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UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank speaks to the UW System Board of Regents in 2015.

MIKE DeVRIES -- The Capital Times archives

UW-Madison has spent at least $8 million since last summer to retain top professors after state legislators cut higher education funding and changed faculty tenure policies, Chancellor Rebecca Blank told the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Thursday.

Campus officials have said national attention from the budget fallout has emboldened other universities to go after UW-Madison’s top faculty, and made professors more open to their offers.

Blank said faculty are asking, “Is UW going to remain a top university, or do I need to go elsewhere?”

A theme in Blank’s speech during the first day of the Regents’ meeting in Madison was that her campus is an investment for Wisconsin — not just an expense in its budget — and will need more state funding to maintain its position as a top public research institution.

“Staying on the top, in terms of quality and reputation, requires continual investment,” Blank said. “Our competitors are moving forward and receiving investments, and we have had much more difficulty in achieving that.”

Blank also touted accomplishments by UW-Madison faculty and students over the past year, noted the campus’ success in retaining and graduating students and mentioned the university’s role in spurring economic development.

“We are investing in the people of Wisconsin, we are investing in the students who come to our university,” Blank said. “We are an investment agency for the state.”

“That’s a message we’re trying to get out strongly to the citizens of the state and to the political leaders.”

The 2015-17 state budget cut funding for the UW System by $250 million over two years, stripped tenure policies from state law and weakened faculty governance protections. Blank and others are pushing for the state to increase its support for higher education in the next budget.

Four professors chose to leave

The $8 million price tag for retention comes from 48 cases handled by the office of UW-Madison’s vice chancellor for research and graduate education so far this fiscal year.

That office is already dealing with more cases — and spending more money — than it had in all of last year, when it spent $7.3 million in an effort to retain 38 professors.

Campus officials said Thursday there have been more active retention cases this year than the 48 handled by the vice chancellor’s office, though they did not say how many.

Over the past five years, UW-Madison has averaged 100 total retention cases in which faculty got or were expected to receive outside offers.

Of the 48 retention cases Blank cited, 41 professors took UW’s offer to stay in Madison, four chose to leave and three cases have not yet been resolved.

Blank said the university has aggressively sought to retain professors — and send a message that it is not open to faculty raids — by spending money on salary increases and giving professors more research funding.

That money is worth spending, Blank said, because those top professors are the people who give UW-Madison its reputation. They also bring money into the university — a combined $18 million in research grants for the 41 faculty members, Blank said.

Still, the retention effort has not been cheap on a campus that is working to absorb a budget deficit that stood at $86 million last July, she said.

“I can’t afford not to do this — this is the reputation of the university,” Blank told the Regents. “But add that to my deficit.”

Tenure on

agenda Friday

The Board of Regents is set for a busy Friday meeting, when its education committee will take up a draft of a new tenure policy.

The tenure policy should ensure UW-Madison faculty have protections comparable to those at competing institutions, Blank said. The full board is expected to approve a new policy in March.

“I’d like to put this behind us and I think we can do that over the next couple of months,” Blank said.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.