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More valued faculty members leaving USF St. Petersburg

News of business dean Geralyn Franklin's departure came in mid-January.

And last week, University of South Florida St. Petersburg officials announced that nationally recognized professor Christopher D'Elia also was leaving.

Neither interim regional chancellor Margaret Sullivan nor regional vice chancellor for academic affairs Noreen Noonan would say whether the two departures at USF St. Petersburg constitute what many regard as the brain drain, the steady exodus of talented professors and staffers leaving Florida's increasingly cash-strapped universities.

But Bill Habermeyer, a member of USF St. Petersburg's campus board, is concerned, noting that too many top-notch faculty members have been lured away in recent years by offers the state university system is unable to match.

Franklin, 47, accepted a job at the University of Dallas. D'Elia, 62, will be heading to Louisiana State.

"We've lost two very valued people recently," said Habermeyer, former president and chief executive officer of Progress Energy Florida. "I think every university is going to have to reassess its ability to compete for top talent based on the economic challenges we're facing today."

Dozens of faculty members have left Florida's public universities in the past year, bound for schools in states like North Carolina and Virginia that suffer less from revenue shortfalls and budget cuts.

Renowned robotics researcher Robin Murphy, who deployed her search-and-rescue robots after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, left USF in the summer for Texas A&M. USF's Richard Heller, a professor of molecular medicine and an award-winning surgery professor, went to Old Dominion University in Virginia.

While most professors are quick to say it's about the opportunity more than a salary boost, the money can be impressive. LSU has offered D'Elia $200,000, a 50 percent increase over his USF salary. Officials at the University of Dallas, a private, Catholic liberal arts university, would not release Franklin's salary, citing privacy issues.

Bill Edmonds, a spokesman for the group that oversees Florida's 11 public universities, said such departures are troubling.

"We're just hearing too many cases of really good people moving on to other universities outside the state," Edmonds said. "Not every one of them can be attributed to a brain drain, but we're hearing enough that we are afraid it is a real phenomenon."

Compounding the issue, Edmonds said, is the fact that senior professors are the ones most likely to bring significant research dollars into the state. D'Elia, who was regional associate vice chancellor for research and graduate studies and a nationally recognized professor of environmental science and policy, has attracted $2 million in grant funding, including a $100,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation, since arriving at USF St. Petersburg in 2004.

The Kellogg grant was earmarked for the International Ocean Institute, a worldwide organization that promotes sustainable ocean space and coastal resources. The institute selected USF St. Petersburg as the site for its first U.S. center in 2007, largely due to D'Elia's efforts. Its future is now uncertain, although D'Elia said it most likely will remain at USF.

Franklin declined to be interviewed for this story, but said through USF's media relations office that the University of Dallas recruited her, contacting her in September and then again in October. She formally applied for the job in late October.

D'Elia said that he, too, was courted.

"They were very persistent," D'Elia said. "I initially wasn't going to (apply), but they presented a very convincing argument that it would be a good move for me."

He downplayed the idea that his departure is part of a statewide brain drain of talented faculty members.

"In the sense that I'm leaving and taking whatever talents I possess with me, I suppose that would be the case," he said. "The bottom line is, this was a professional opportunity and not an escape."

Michael Hoad, a spokesman on USF's Tampa campus, said that while a certain amount of turnover is normal, the university is watching for patterns.

"Yes, there have been people leaving, and, yes, we're concerned," Hoad said. "It's certainly true that when people get a generous offer, we cannot counter offer at the same level."

More valued faculty members leaving USF St. Petersburg 01/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 10:32am]

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