University retirements increase, resignations drastically decrease

Many know the budget changes Gov. Scott Walker has proposed over the last few months have great effects on state employees, including faculty and staff here at UW-Whitewater.

As rumors fly about possible retirements and departures due to the negative effects of the budget proposals, many professors have already made plans to move out of the state or retire.

Bertozzi

According to the provost’s office, the number of retirements has gone up the past few years. Twelve employees retired during the 2008-09 school year, 16 during the 2009-10 year, and 29 plan to retire this year.

However, the number of resignations has gone down drastically. As many as 39 employees resigned during the 2007-08 year, but only four have announced their resignation this year.

Elena Bertozzi, associate professor of communication, plans to leave UW-Whitewater after this semester to become the director of a new graduate program in game design at Long Island University outside of New York City. Bertozzi said the pay cut is one of the things that irked her to leave the state.

“When I came here to Wisconsin, I took a pay cut to come here,” Bertozzi said. “One of the reasons was the benefits package was relatively good but also the climate in Wisconsin was a good climate. The state traditionally had really strong support for education … but ever since I’ve been here, every single year there have been more pay cuts [and] we’ve been furloughed for two years.”

Along with the pay cuts and furlough days, Bertozzi said the governor’s recent commercials, which call state employees “parasites,” have bothered her as well.

“I don’t need to be insulted,” Bertozzi said.

The Media Arts and Game Development program at UW-Whitewater, which launched in fall 2010, was due in large part to Bertozzi. Because many schools are looking to start game design programs, Bertozzi is considered “high-demand” faculty, which means she has had many other job offers around the country.

Another professor, who preferred to remain anonymous, has considered retiring sometime soon.

If the budget proposals are passed, that “soon” will come much quicker than otherwise planned.

“If staying employed would end up lowering my retirement benefits, it would force me into making the decision and retiring sooner than I had expected,” he said.

The anonymous professor, who has been teaching at UW-Whitewater for a few decades, thought he could work another year with the turnaround of the economy, but he said he’s not so sure about that anymore.

Bertozzi, who began teaching at UW-Whitewater in 2005, said she has had other job offers each year she has been teaching here.

“When I decided to send out letters seeking employment elsewhere, there was a lot of interest,” Bertozzi said. “The salaries at other universities are much higher than they are here. For me, it became a no-brainer.

“There’s no reason for me to … be in a climate that, to me, is pretty toxic.”

Bertozzi said if high-demand faculty keep leaving the state, students should be worried because the university will no longer have cutting-edge programs or faculty. High-demand faculty have no reason to stay, she added.

“That’s another reason I’m just really disappointed that there isn’t any kind of student response to the budget,” Bertozzi said. “The faculty [has] responded loudly and clearly.”

Wisconsin will have a “terrible time” attracting new public-sector employees, Bertozzi said.

“Why would new faculty want to come here?” Bertozzi asked. “Why would you want to come to a state that’s publicly stating, ‘we do not value public employees and we’re going to cut your pay any chance we get?’”

Bertozzi said she expects a lot of jobs to open up and no high-quality candidates will look to fill them because the state will attract people who can’t get a job in other places.

Both the anonymous professor and Bertozzi said they have heard several people float around the retirement or resignation rumors.

“I see a bunch of colleagues who are getting ready to retire so they can jump ship at a moment’s notice if they feel a need to do that,” the anonymous professor said.

However, with her departure, Bertozzi said she is not trying to make a statement.

“I think this legislation, and the way the public has responded to the legislation, has told me the people of Wisconsin do not value what I do,” Bertozzi said. “I’m going to go to a place where that is valued.”

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