Topeka — Leaders of several of Kansas’ public universities said Wednesday that they have lost some star professors because of recent state budget cuts.
In Kansas University’s case, budget cuts likely figured into the 2009 departure of associate professor Yang Zhang, one of the most prominent researchers in bioinformatics, according to a “case study” memo by KU.
His computational laboratory at KU, started with an initial investment of $335,000, generated $2.5 million in research funds. But the University of Michigan made a $2 million start-up offer for Zhang to conduct his research there.
KU couldn’t counter, the memo said. “In this case, the offer (from Michigan) came when no merit salary increases were available, when cuts were making it impossible to maintain faculty numbers in bioinformatics, and when the prognosis was for additional challenging budget years,” according to the memo. Zhang’s spouse was also able to find an ideal job in Ann Arbor, the memo said.
“The loss of Professor Zhang has been a major setback” for bioinformatics and molecular biosciences departments at KU, the memo said.
Higher education has been cut by approximately $100 million during the past two years. Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget makes no additional cuts. He has proposed $15 million in new research funding, divided equally among KU, Kansas State and Wichita State, but the universities would have to match the state funding through their own existing resources to access those funds.
Kansas State, Pittsburg State and Wichita State provided similar examples of top professors leaving for more lucrative deals at other schools.
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said KU has strong faculty who are sought by programs across the nation.
“Their departure causes loss of other staff and research programs,” Gray-Little said during a meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents’ Council of Presidents, which is composed of regents university chiefs.
In November, the Council of Presidents had discussed trying to gather figures on the number of faculty who have left recently for better offers, and forwarding that information to policymakers.
But on Wednesday, Gray-Little said there “was not a clear pattern” of faculty losses across all regents universities. So the council decided to focus on several specific instances of faculty being lured away.