UWM faculty: setting the record straight

Yesterday, just prior to the UWM faculty’s historic, unanimous vote of no confidence in UW System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued a press release that was highly critical of UWM faculty.

The Governor cited a number of statistics about the faculty that are either misleading or false. Here we respond to the Governor’s remarks in order to set the record straight.

We begin by noting that a number of the figures cited by the Governor are a result of UWM’s increased research focus. Earlier this year, UWM achieved the highest research designation, R1, from the Carnegie Foundation. This shows the success of UWM’s research focus, and it enhances the value of a UWM degree for our students and state alike.

We would hope the Governor would welcome this achievement, rather than bashing the faculty who have worked to make it possible on one of the lowest costs to educate per student of any R1 university in the country. UWM is a national low-cost leader.

Faculty salaries at UWM:

The Governor’s cited average salary figure of $101,700 includes only those faculty who have earned the rank of full professor. These are the most accomplished scholars and the top earners, representing approximately 29% of the UWM faculty. This figure may include the salaries of senior administrators who also hold the rank of full professor, such as UWM’s Chancellor, who earns $340,000 (though without access to the dataset used by the Governor’s office, it is impossible to know). [Update, May 12: Pat Schneider at the Capital Times has located the source of the figure cited above. The Governor’s press release linked to the corresponding document from 2003.]

The term “full professor” is not synonymous with “full-time professor.” The full-time faculty at UWM are those who hold the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Assistant professors are those on the tenure track; associate professors are those who have earned tenure but not yet earned promotion to full professor.

According to 2013 UWM salary data made available via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the median salary across all categories of full-time faculty at UWM is $85,325. Among assistant and associate professors, who together make up 71% of the full-time faculty at UWM, the median salary is $80,150. [Update, May 12: According to the LFB’s 2015 overview document mentioned above, the average salary for assistant professors at UWM is $70,700, and the average salary for associate professors at UWM is $75,200.]

State funding accounts for approximately 19% of UWM’s overall budget. On a proportional basis, the median faculty salary at UWM costs taxpayers approximately $16,200, or roughly a third of the average annual salary in Milwaukee County cited by the Governor. In return, the state reaps the benefits of tens of millions of dollars in external funding generated by UWM faculty, while tuition at UWM is roughly a quarter of what it is at Marquette University.

As a top-tier research university, UWM exists in an academic labor market that is international in scope. According to UW System data, faculty salaries at UWM continue to lag those at peer institutions by 13.5%.


Spending per student:

The Governor cites a 40% increase in spending per student from 2002-03 to 2015-16. This figure blends together all sources of funding to the university. In fact, state funding to the UW System has declined precipitously in recent years. The bulk of the increase in per-student spending over the period cited by the Governor comes from the steep increases in tuition that he elsewhere decries.


Student-to-faculty ratio:

The Governor cites a student-to-faculty ratio at UWM of 2.8 to 1. UWM’s homepage cites a ratio of 18 to 1. UW System accountability dashboard data show figures of 23,108 students (FTE) and 814 faculty at UWM for fall 2014. This yields a ratio of 28.4 students per faculty member. The Governor’s cited figure is off by a factor of between 6.5 and 10.

Student contact hours:

The Governor cites a 20% drop in average student contact hours per faculty member from 2000 to 2013. Because of the timespan involved, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

During the period cited, UWM opened research-focused schools of Freshwater Sciences and Public Health, along with doctoral programs in other colleges. The change in student contact hours (i.e., classroom hours) reflects UWM’s increasing research focus, and excludes contact hours spent mentoring graduate students.

As stated above, we find it curious that Governor Walker would choose to criticize UWM faculty based on a statistic so closely connected to UWM’s newfound R1 status.


The Governor states that student enrollment decreased much faster than the size of the faculty workforce from 2010 to 2014. The choice of 2010 as a baseline is deliberately misleading: 2010 saw an unprecedented population-driven enrollment peak. UW System accountability dashboard data show that, from 2000 to 2014, student enrollment (FTE) at UWM increased by 29.7%, while the size of the faculty increased by only 19.7%.