Last week, Dr. Jeremi Suri, an award-winning Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, confirmed that he will be leaving the school next fall to accept the Mack Brown Chair of Global Leadership at University of Texas Austin.
Upon first glance, nothing is striking about this news. Due to funding constraints, faculty retention — especially for rising academic stars such as Suri — has always been a challenge for public universities, as private institutions often offer a significant pay increase, as well as academic prestige.
But this time, there is another factor that must be considered: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R), who has launched a high-profile assault on Wisconsin’s public employees. “I love this place and am really sad about leaving, but it’s been a really hard year here,” Suri told the Capital Times:
I think with the political attacks on the university and the budget cutting, it’s hard. And that’s not the fault of the university, but it’s the environment that we’re operating in… There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of worry — and legitimate worry — about where things are going.
Under Walker’s controversial budget plan, public employees — including UW faculty — will take sizable pay cut, with the UW-Madison losing an additional $125 million in state funding in the next two years alone. While Walker claimed that his proposal was in the public interest, many public employees understand they face an uncertain future as Walker continues to advocate for further slashing of the state’s budget.
Suri has received lucrative offers before, but had always turned them down to remain in Madison, where he was known for being a top rate scholar, a highly gifted teacher, and a strong presence within the community. “We probably overuse this term, but he really did embody the Wisconsin Idea and I know he took that very seriously,” said Professor David McDonald, Chair of the History Department. In response to Walker’s proposals, professors at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse voted overwhelmingly to join the American Federation of Teachers.
— Jennifer Kalaidis