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June 03, 2004

Talent Raids Highlight Academia Arms Race

FROM CALIFORNIA ACADEMIA comes word of a gathering storm of haves distancing themselves ever further from have nots.

In this BCS-like self sustaining dilemma the “assets” are not highly compensated coaches, lavish stadium complexes and mega billion TV rights fees. Instead, the unfolding academic struggles involve the best professors and graduate students, endowed chairs and research funds.

This is a battle pitting state versus private universities. The richer private institutions have taken dead aim at state schools, and they have begun to lure brain talent away from the beleaguered public universities.

The situation is especially dire in California, in which the state university system has been buffeted by cutbacks of over half a billion dollars this year.

Thus, the UC’s and the Cal States are being battered on two fronts. On one side, their ability to retain academic talent has been severely diminished by draconian budget cuts. On the other side, they are suffering rapacious poaching from deep-pocketed private universities.

One of the most predatory private schools is the University of Southern California, with a goal of luring one hundred prominent faculty members from other universities. USC has signed up 11 professors from the UC system in the last two years.

Due to the significant budget cuts, UCLA is launching a $250-million fund-raising campaign to enhance its academic recruiting and retention programs. UCLA is looking to add 100 endowed chairs for professors and providing new fellowships and scholarships for as many as 3,000 graduate students a year.

Meanwhile, UCLA has been besieged by pesky talent raids. For example, about a dozen of the law school's 60 professors are being wooed by other—mostly private—universities.

A typical example of a public-to-private defector is Kenneth Schultz, a UCLA poly sci professor departing for Stanford. He said the financial outlook for Stanford is "clearly stronger" than it is for the UC system.

The UC salary scale in the University of California system starts at $46,300 for assistant professors up to $128,300 for some full professors. However, disciplines of law, business and physical sciences sometimes pay higher.

The academic “arms race” is more focused on human talent than the facilities focus of athletics programs. Whereas high school recruits and alumni donors are dazzled by the awesome physical facilities of many athletics programs, learned professors are not so impressed by physical structures.

Show them the money.

(this 387 word excerpt—with supplemental commentary—was extracted from a 966 word article in the Los Angeles Times of 6-3-04)