Keeping faculty

If professors are leaving because of money, strategies for retaining them need to be explored.

January 26, 2011


A news story in last week’s Journal-World told about a world-renowned researcher in the field of bioinformatics leaving Kansas University for a similar position at the University of Michigan.

The story reported the professor was generating $2.5 million in research funds but Michigan offered a $2 million startup offer to conduct his research. Bioinformatics is the application of statistics and computer science to the field of molecular biology.

A KU spokesman said, “The loss of professor Yang Zhang has been a major setback for bioinformatics and molecular biosciences departments.”

The story about professor Zhang was meant to demonstrate how Kansas is losing and still continues to lose, attract and fail to hold world-class scientists due to the tight fiscal restraints faced by Kansas universities. Apparently representatives from the state’s Regents schools had considered trying to make their case for increased funding by trying to gather figures from member schools on the number of faculty who have left recently for better offers. They then would forward this information to state lawmakers.

However, at a meeting last Wednesday of the Regents Council of Presidents, the project was dropped. KU Chancellor Bernadette 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.

Apparently the case of KU’s professor Zhang is one such instance.

It seems obvious Dr. Zhang’s move to Michigan is a loss for KU, but this particular situation raises the question of whether there might have been some way for the school to have kept the researcher in his KU laboratory.

For example, couldn’t the KU Endowment Association have found funds to counter the Michigan offer? Did KU officials ask the Endowment Association for assistance? Were there others who could have assisted? Or, were there other reasons professor Zhang decided to accept the Michigan offer?

When KU has lost valuable faculty before there have, at times, been issues other than money that triggered the move. “Money” may be the reason some claim KU has lost an important researcher. But in some cases there are factors more of a professional nature or questions about the level of support they received from the administration.

It would seem, however, if indeed money was the principal reason for professor Zhang’s move, why wasn’t the KU Endowment Association able to solve the problem? Did anyone ask, or did association officials say “no”?


LogicMan 7 years, 2 months ago

Were 2001 and 2008's investment losses so horrible that the EA is still recovering, including through reduced outlays?

Fossick 7 years, 2 months ago

"Did anyone ask, or did association officials say “no”?"

Did you call the association to find out? Did you call Dr. Zhang and ask him why he left and what KU might have done to keep him? These are the kinds of things newspapers used to do.

JustNoticed 7 years, 2 months ago

Yes, even editorial writers. Thank you, Fossick.

kuprof54 7 years, 2 months ago

"KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said “there was not a clear pattern” of faculty losses across all Regents universities."

This sentence is key to the problem. BGL screamed about finances only to talk to other university leaders and find out that they weren't experiencing a mass exit from their institutions. Could it be that faculty and researchers don't like the new leadership and are frightened as hell about the future of KU? Could it be that they see the writing on the wall that BGL and Vitter aren't capable of leading and they want to leave KU on their terms instead of due to failure of the University?

Over the last year, BGL and more recently, Vitter, have proven that they are incapable of leading KU. They are in over their heads. Just ask community leaders, alumni, and faculty. One of the few great things left at KU is its professors. We can't lose them. Students and the state of Kansas depend on them.

Let's be honest about why faculty are leaving and hope that BGL and Vitter can fix it.

d_prowess 7 years, 2 months ago

Wow, I guess we now know who Dolph Simmons' contact is for the "pulse" of the university that he always mentions in his editorials.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 2 months ago

Actually, BGL and Vitter are doing the right thing with the startegc planning initialtive and with increased expectations for faculty research.

They are trying to fulfill KU's mission as a research university, not a liberal arts college. One might bicker about the way they are doing it, but overall their goals are spot on.

This frightens many lazy KU faculty who are comfortable with the current low expectations and low achievement.

Those days are coming to an end, and I applaud BGL and Vitter for it.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 2 months ago

I suspect that Zhang's departure had more to do with a lack of leadership in the KU administration than money.

The money could have been found. The KU administrators lacked the leadership and vision to make it happen.

Gail Grant 7 years, 2 months ago

KU does not do enough to maintain its bright leading young scholars. In fact their colleagues encourage them to get offers from other institutes, but then when counter is shown to KU they don't try hard enough to match it.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

KU athletics has a few million to spare why don't they step up to the plate and invest in academics?

Those Kansas republican legislators have not taken a serious interest in education at any level for about 25 years. This is not a secret. The entire nation knows as this is one way Kansas makes the national news.

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