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Posted on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

University of Michigan faculty beat: Retaining and wooing stars requires constant vigilance

By Kellie Woodhouse


University of Michigan

Joe Tobianski |

Losing star faculty is a blow to the gut, and most universities will go far to keep their favorite teachers and researchers.

Think of star faculty as in-demand athletes.

Just like the Cleveland Cavaliers didn't want to lose LeBron James to the Miami Heat, University of Michigan doesn't want to lose its star faculty to competing schools. U-M will offer research funding, financial packages and increased responsibility to sought-after professors, going as far as to help place spouses in jobs.

Yet in the game of higher education, faculty poaching is inevitable.

Sean J. Morrison, a leader in the field of stem cell research and acclaimed U-M faculty, left Ann Arbor in 2011 for a job at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. And there's John Z. Ayanian, a former Harvard University doctor and a leader in health policy research. He left Boston to become the first director of U-M's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Most recently, there's the case of U-M Provost Philip Hanlon, who is leaving his workplace of 26 years to become the president of Dartmouth College, another Ivy League institution.


Philip Hanlon is leaving U-M, where he is provost, to become president of Dartmouth College. Hanlon has worked at the university for 26 years, becoming provost in 2010. file photo

During a seven-year period ending in 2011, U-M lost hundreds of faculty to other top schools. The school also has recruited a fair share — 650 sought-after professors from other highly-ranked institutions— to Ann Arbor, which can be a costly and difficult process.

Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley are the two top poachers of University of Michigan talent. Harvard successfully recruited 55 U-M professors between those seven years and Berkley wooed 54 faculty members, according to university figures.

During a seven-year period ending in 2011, the top ten recruiters of Ann Arbor professorial talent were:

  • Harvard University, 55
  • University of California's Berkeley campus, 54
  • Stanford University, 46
  • University of Chicago, 37
  • University of Texas, 33
  • University of Pennsylvania, 28
  • University of North Carolina, 28
  • University of Maryland, 25
  • Columbia University, 24
  • Ohio State University, 23

"I do worry about the challenges that we get from very wealthy privates," said Martha Pollack, vice provost for budgetary and academic affairs. She said that wealthy private universities have an advantage when recruiting due to deeper pockets. "As our budget model gets tighter and tighter, the great public universities ... could lose our real talent to the wealthy universities."

During the same seven-year period, university administrators were able to make packages enticing enough to retain 510 faculty who other colleges were recruiting. That's a success rate of 60 percent, according to university figures.

The university typically persuades a professor to come to the university, or stay despite recruitment form elsewhere, in three ways. The first and most obvious is money, in the forms of salary and research support. For example, engineering dean David Munson received a 29 percent raise after he was recruited for a provost job at another school.

"I won't say we never make really enormous retention packages, but that's the rarity," said Pollack. "We try to be reasonable ... we try really hard here to live within our means."

A professor might be compelled to come to Ann Arbor if the university offers him or her money to support a lab for two or three years, until that professor has established a substantial enough following to start luring research dollars to the university through grants. This startup money could be funded by an interested college or also by a recruitment fund held by the provost's office.

Getting top faculty is an ever-competitive ordeal. Offering competitive salaries is necessary. Out of U-M's top 10 competitors for talent, U-M pays its professors the 7th-highest salaries.

  • Harvard University: $203,699
  • University of Chicago: $197,788
  • Stanford University: $192,915
  • University of Pennsylvania: $181,812
  • Yale University: $180,431
  • Columbia University: $180,321
  • Univ. of California at Los Angeles: $159,808
  • Univ. of California at Berkley: $152,521
  • University of Michigan: $148,763
  • University of North Carolina: $143,983
  • University of Texas: $140,583
  • University of Maryland: $136,359
  • Ohio State University: $130,143

A faculty member considering leaving the university can approach U-M administrators. Once every five years, recruited faculty members are eligible for a review.

"We really want this to be serious," said Pollack. "We don't want to just play games with people and get into bidding wars."

Reviews can result in a higher salary or more responsibility — or both — depending on the desires of the professor. They can also result in a final parting, says Pollack.

That leads to the second way faculty members are recruited and retained: They're promised more responsibility. According to Pollack, faculty awarded ownership over their department or college are more likely to stick around.

"Most of the time there is some salary increase," said Pollack. "It's very common for there to also be some sort of a leadership opportunity that makes sense for the person.

"(Administrators) will try to figure out what the faculty most wants. It's not always money. It can be research equipment, priority when (choosing) the next PhD student."

Pollack recalls being approached by a computer science faculty member who was recruited "to a very high level" at Microsoft. It was impossible for the university to counter his financial officer, so instead Pollack — who was dean of the School of Information at the time — offered the professor seed money to start an undergraduate research program. As a result, the professor stayed at the university and turned down a job that would have tripled his earnings.

Explained Pollack: "One of the reasons we do retention on our real stars is because they have very active research programs that help us mainly academically, and also financially."

The university can also offer a sought-after professor an endowed chair title, which not only offers job security and a nice salary, but also comes with a level of prestige.

The third tool of recruitment and retention: assisting professors whose partners are also seeking equitable employment. As dual-career couples are becoming increasingly common, this aspect of faculty recruitment is becoming essential, said U-M vice provost for academic and faculty affairs Chris Whitman.


University of Michigan is able to retain 60 percent of its faculty that are recruited elsewhere.

"We try to offer support in placing spouses," explains Whitman. U-M employs staff designated with helping dual career couples. Many find jobs at the university and their positions may be initially funded by provost office resources.

Whitman said that due to its Midwestern location, U-M is at a disadvantage in recruiting.

"It's difficult to compete with schools that are located in major urban areas," said Whitman. "Many people are looking for jobs for their spouse. The whole family needs to be involved."

Getting recruits into town can be the biggest hurdle, she adds. "People tend to assume, if they've never been to Ann Arbor, they don't want to come here."

The recruitment game is often played long before the actual offers are made. Administrators and leading faculty spend hours keeping abreast of academic and industry leaders and reading through academic journals to assess the success of scholars. Several U-M colleges have committees charged with locating vulnerable talent at other colleges. At a decentralized institution like U-M, recruitment and retention policies vary from college to college.

"It's very intensive. It is a very large drain on faculty time," Whitman said.

The most important work can be spotting a "star" before one has fully emerged.

"In terms of retention, we spot people who might be attractive to other schools before the other schools are trying to recruit them," Whitman continued. "We try to figure out what is important about Michigan and build on that."

Added Pollack: "We watch the situation carefully. We are carefully monitoring all the time to see who we are (at risk of losing)."

Overall, U-M is successful at retaining faculty. In the past two years on record, 2011-12 and 2010-11, the school lost less than 4 percent of its faculty each year, even after retirements were factored in.

The average length of employment for tenure and tenure-track faculty at the university is 11 years.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

It's a two headed sword.On one hand you hate to lose the stars.On the other hand to have this kind of interest in your star faculty has got to be an indicator you're doing something right. As far as the ever increasing salaries/benefits of the top faculty goes all i can say is top talent in any profession costs top money.somebody has to pay for it.unfortunately in a lot of cases this means tuition goes up.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

Sometimes the deal maker/breaker in staff recruitment is a good realtor to show them around town look at prospective homes.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 1:59 a.m.

So Harvard truly is the Michigan of the east. You really can not blame them for wanting to be the leaders and best. Someday they hope to be as good as Michigan!!! Go Blue!!!


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 10:44 p.m.

Since the concern is losing top talent to other schools, then one must conclude that the purloined 325 star professors listed in the article have seriously degraded UM's academic standings in those fields. The impact must be severely felt to lose the brightest stars, to be replaced by much dimmer ones.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

Your assertion is median and below median professors are the ones who left, improving schools that are not quite up to UM standards of excellence. That being true, then it must also be true that UM students who had the misfortune to be educated under them did not receive UM's standard of excellence for which they paid. Is that correct? I have no bias against UM as a university, even though I'm a Badger. What I do have a bias against is the unmitigated gall and arrogance of Ann Arbor and UM to believe that whatever they do is right because of who they are and the universe revolves around them. The universe doesn't revolve around Ann Arbor, and UM is often quite woefully wrong.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 1:02 a.m.

"Since the concern is losing top talent to other schools, then one must conclude that the purloined 325 star professors listed in the article have seriously degraded UM's academic standings in those fields." At the risk of pointing out the obvious: it would be possible for a professor below the median to transfer to a school where (S)he is above the median, thus improving both instituions. So, you point/assertion is supported neither by a statistical abstraction, nor by a concrete citation (as to lost schoarlship/teaching-ability), thus your point is strictly a point of view which is negative, not a point of view supported by the reality based community. "The impact must be severely felt to lose the brightest stars, to be replaced by much dimmer ones." Where is the support for your assertion. How do you know what was lost versus what was gained in either the teaching or research space? Why adopt a negative posture without factual support. If you don't like UM, just say so, don't embarrass yourself with a groundless/unsupported/unfounded assertion.

Jinhui Chen

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 10:21 p.m.

If you don't stand on a plateau, you will be limited by your own vision and thinking and therefore can't understand why people do that. You are free to express your opinion and unfortunately it is short-sighted, narrow-minded, short of strategy, and not constructive.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 5:39 p.m.

Obviously the referenced plateau is otherwise reverently known as UM, and Jinhui Chen is among its kindred spirits. However, from my experience, I do believe "Allegory of the Cave" is more accurately applied to Ann Arbor and UM sycophants.

bill s

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.


Jinhui Chen

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 10:09 p.m.

If you care of teaching, then community college or other 4-year teaching colleges might be the best choice, and the tuition is much cheaper. Students/talents come to the UofM due to the academic excellence as well as the quality of teaching and learning. Speaking of quality teaching, a general teacher can mainly teach knowledge on the books, while a great teacher is more on inspiring student's learning and creative thinking and the successful story of a prominent professor will definitely become a role model for those talented students to emulate and excel. Beside, the ability and vision of advising students are also greatly different in the effectiveness. If you are a talented student, want to be successful as the leadership, the statistical rate of success is more often to work under a "star" professor influence or guidance.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said (paraphrased): "A cynic knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing." The posters (in the negative) on this thread appear to understand the concept of cost, but not the concepts: of relative cost; the difference between cost and value; the difference between revenue and expense; the value of investing capital versus the erosion of capital through disinvestment or not investing. Michigan is ranked in the top 20 universities on the entire planet. In part, that ranking is driven by the intelligent expenditure of wealth to create value, the marketing of that value, and the repatriation to the university of monies earned by graduates utilizing skills learned at the university. That is the value. The cost or relative cost also matters, but the university has been, for more than 150 years, an institutional model that is widely copied but never emulated and hasn't achieved that eminence by listening to the negative natters on this forum. In fact, since the negative comments on this site tend to run inverse to university policy, one could well imagine that following the comments on this board would lead to an inversion of the rankings and lead Michigan to reputational and financial wrack and ruination in a very short time.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

Bromides aren't always and everywhere true, but they're easy to proffer and can be inserted into nearly every discussion without needing to qualify them.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." ? Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 9:16 p.m.

Professors teach, researchers research....My father was an engineering professor (Aero) whose pride was his teaching. I have an enormous amount of respect for researchers, whose talents the U. of M. needs, but the #1 need of the U is good teachers, seems to me....IF star researchers don't teach, why pretend they do? It's all very well to say it's nice to be taught by a star in the field, but very few students are. Particularly undergraduates.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

I was taught by quite a few "star" researchers during my last 2 years of undergrad. It really depends on what classes you choose to take.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

This link is interesting: shows that $150,000 in Ann Arbor equates to $203,873 in Boston; to LA the shift is from $150,000 in AA to $193.488 in Los Angeles This would suggest that compensation is defensive relative to Cambridge and attractive relative to Los Angeles, but it should be remembered that compensation is only part of the puzzle. For example, Morrison moved in p art because the restrictions on stem cell research in Michigan (including the threat of felony jail time) not only limited research but forced him into a posture of being a social activist which required many hours out of the lab. Likewise restrictions on health benefits for gay couples creates a negative atmosphere and a disincentive to either stay or to in migrate to Michigan.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

How much was this university paying for someone to run their twitter? $100k? Money seems to be no object to them.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

And having a degree doesn't matter. They say it does, but they won't check.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

One thing UM does not offer (to my knowledge) is any type of tuition incentive for immediate family members of faculty they are trying to retain. I wonder if Harvard or Berkeley do?


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 6:22 p.m.

I just checked online, and neither Harvard nor Berkeley offer tuition assistance for immediate family members of faculty.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

Should be: Retaining and wooing stars *require* constant vigilance.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

If professors bring in research dollars, they may take what is known as summer salary to work on research projects when school is not in session...this work is not "for free". For example: a prof is paid $120K per year. That number is based on a 9 month year, and is usually paid out over 12 calendar months. To obtain a "summer salary" monthly rate, just divide $120K by 9 and get $13,333 per mo. If a prof takes one month's summer salary to work on research, the annual pay then is increased to $120K + $13,333 or $133,333. This increase is typically charged to the research grant. Following is from UM's budget planning process for research grants. Summer salary Summer salary for faculty with academic year (AY) appointments can be figured at one-ninth of the AY salary for each month of summer effort. A maximum of two and one-half months may be included for the whole summer. Some sponsors, however, impose specific limitations on summer salaries. The National Science Foundation, for example, usually will not pay for more than two months of summer research at a rate of one-ninth of the AY salary per month. Bottom line is that they are worth it.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

Note that summer salary has to be written into the budget in the original grant application. It doesn't come come out of some general fund, it's a line item, and the organizations and agencies that give grants know in advance if they are paying for summer salary.

Basic Bob

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

Amazing that one could command such a large salary and expect the university to give their spouse a job that they are not otherwise qualified to hold. Welcome to the one percent world.

Basic Bob

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

@blue85, I did not make a "bald assertion". It was clearly stated in the article that spouses are offered jobs to recruit and retain valuable employees. If two professors are both qualified and want to come here as a team, that is a different matter than a professor who comes here only if his/her spouse can get a manager level job in the bursar's office, library, or admissions which many other people are better qualified to hold. I make the assumption that some but not all of these spouses are less qualified than their stellar partners. In the case you cite, both spouses were well qualified and this recruitment tool would not be necessary. I don't need an Ph.D. in Rhetoric to recognize the fallacies in your argument.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:25 p.m.

"give their spouse a job that they are not otherwise qualified to hold" The prior statement assumes facts not in evidence: can Basic Bob cite EVEN ONE instance where an unqualified spouse was hired? I can cite two contrary cases: Laycock (husband to Sullivan was nationally known); two economists recently hired from UPenn as a tandem (they also publish as a tandem). You should remember Bob, in the reality based community, bald assertions won't fly; in fact, this is the sort of thinking (all-inclusive with no support), that suggests that you must have bombed the SAT and never made it to the GRE/GMAT/MCAT level of testing. Try bringing some facts to the table next time.

Basic Bob

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

@aggatt, The first job makes for a very comfortable living. I won't dispute that they have earned it. Add on a second income for another $100k and you are talking some serious loot. And you have taken a nice job away from someone qualified that could support a family.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

being paid $150,000 hardly puts them in the 1%


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

Happened to family of a UM president, not so long ago.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

Funding models differ between Universities...some require Professors to bring in most of their salaries from grants, others pay all or part of Professor's salaries outright. This can make a big difference to faculty who are being 'headhunted' to go elsewhere and can play a big role in their final choice to go or to stay.

Lizzy Alfs

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Wow. This is really interesting. I never considered what it takes to recruit and retain professors. The point about it being more difficult at U-M because it's not an urban area is interesting, especially because in many cases, professors are moving their spouses or families here. I remember at U-M the distinction between a "lecturer" and a "professor." I actually had very few professors during my 4 years there.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 9:40 p.m.

Epengar...thanks for the additional color. I was initially unclear as to why you offered it, but realized that I used the abbrev. "TA" as a short hand for non-tenure-track, as was the custom when I was in attendance. So, to restate, my teachers were all Ph.D level ( with the exception of 1 marketing person who was finishing her PhD). So, modulus the substitution noted above, my point stands as initially stated: my teachers at UM were all tenure track (Prof/ass-prof) and no TAs, or GSIs or whatever other abbreviation is used for non-tenure-track.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:48 p.m.

blue85, Lecturers are not the same as TAs. Lecturers are the primary teachers for the classes they teach, they aren't assisting a professor. Most lecturers have PhDs in their fields. They get hired on short contracts, are paid only to teach, not to to do research, and are not eligible for tenure. They used to be pretty rare. Departments hired them occasionally to cover a course if they didn't have a professor to do it, or maybe as a spousal hire. The modern languages programs seemed to have a lot of them, I think so they could offer a wider diversity of language classes without having a massive group of professors. Lecturers have become more common on campus, and are used to teach more undergraduate classes. They still do use TAs now, though they renamed them "graduate student instructors" because sometimes they have enough independence that it's not fair to call them "assistants."


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

Grad school must be different: 100% of my courses were taught by professors; never had one TA.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

A salary of $150,000 in Ann Arbor, Michigan should increase to $216,699 in Boston, Massachusetts. It looks like we are doing just fine on the retention scale for salary here in Michigan. I suspect that weather, city, and proximity to either the West or East coast plays into this as well. Also, Harvard vs U of M? Hardly a comparison in envy status.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

As you can see further below, I used a web based calculator and figures are close to what is in the article.. Your $216,000 figure is pretty close, but the calculator suggests roughly $203,000 and change. Your larger point about weather and what not is germane. As to the envy quotient mentioned, we see Harvard recruiting heavily on the UM campus, but we'd need to see the flow in the other direction to measure "envy". Until you can do that your assertion will remain just that.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

Although the reputation of the faculty is important, the bigger issue is the huge grant dollars that they bring in. Some of these faculty bring the university millions annually. At the end of the day, the state benefits from these funds in terms of the employees hired and university costs that are defrayed. Now the issue of affordability of tuition is something different...


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

Smoke screen- Spending and admin salaries has risen much much faster than spending on faculty salaries. How about a story on that? And looking at the chart, if you adjust for cost of living, UM is one of the highest paid schools in the country.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

"Spending and admin salaries has risen much much faster than spending on faculty salaries. How about a story on that?" How about links which support the above contention: 1) a times series for each group admin and faculty; 2) a differencing series over time to the spread differential; 3) a calculation grid showing AA salaries versus, for example, 20 competing schools (this will only require (N^2-N/2) which would only require Chelsea Bob to calculate roughly 190 datapoints to support his assertion. Please calculate those figures to support your contention.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

I suspect that the salaries that beat the COLA apply to professors and administrators. Any staffer/worker bee would be lucky to get a raise that keeps up with the cost of living.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

How many classes are University Professors required to teach? I have heard some only teach one class. At the salaries offered, these professors should be teaching 4 or 5 classes. Let's get out monies worth.


Wed, Jan 23, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

The source for my survey was the Ann Arbor News - you'll have to find the ex-paper's morgue and sift through it, perhaps a decade ago. While sifting, you might also find the 3 inch headline story by Rick Haglund where UM declared that the state can only prosper after it eliminates manufacturing - and the quicker the better.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

got a source for the survey? There are a lot of people considered "faculty" who are not teachers. The university has "research faculty" who are paid only to do research, and "clinical faculty" who do a combination of medical teaching and clinical care, maybe research too. Neither research faculty or clinical faculty are get tenure, and many of the research faculty get their salary only from outside grants.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

There was an audit some years ago that showed there were over 500 professors with absolutely no teaching responsibilities, they were brought in strictly as academic trophies. At great expense, too. It's not a real concern though. 250 years-ago Adam Smith railed against Oxford for the do-nothing professors, too. He explained it was the nature of the academia beast, and as long one professor didn't complain about another professor doing nothing it was perfectly acceptable for all to do nothing - and it's why there are assistants to do the actual work.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

Faculty are paid to do a mix of teaching and advising, research, and administrative work (mainly serving on departmental committees). Mostly teaching and research, but there's some flexibility (for example, department heads teach less while they have that job). I think the default teaching load is two courses per "term" for Fall and Winter term (UM actually has a trimester system: Fall and Winter terms are the regular academic year, and then there is a Spring-Summer term). Most faculty have a 9 month appointment: they don't get paid for June through August unless they take on additional teaching then, though they can do other work then, including writing summer salary into research grant applications.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

Then they wouldn't be able to do research.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

Boy, and I thought the goal of the state Universities and Collages was to teach MI students. While administrators and teachers pay goes higher and higher, tuition goes higher and higher and fewer in the state can attend who aren't blessed with golden spoons.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 6:23 p.m.

"...the increasing number of fellowships for original research maintained by many private corporations, and by the suggestion and tentative establishment in 1920 of a general Department of Industrial Research maintained through co-operation by the manufacturers of the State with the Faculty of the Engineering College. It is specially stipulated that the results of whatever investigations are made under these auspices are to be made public for the benefit of the people of the State, irrespective of the source of income." University of Michigan How does that fit into UM's mission statement today, Johnnya2? It seems to me that the research is solely for the benefit of UM, commericial interests and business-owner faculty today, in spite of where the funding originates. UM's privately held patent portfolio certainly makes that clear enough.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Maybe you shoudl look at the mission statement of the U before you comment at what YOU think it is. "The mission of the University of Michigan is to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future." For the record, which is more valuable to most people, learning about a subject from the most expert person in the field (expensive) or a cheaper wanna be?

Mich Res and Alum

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

This is a great, fascinating write-up. Don't forget that students benefit greatly from this recruitment and retainment of top talent. When you go into a job interview and can say you worked with computer science star X or educational expert Y, it means a lot. I was a school of ed grad student when Dean Loewenberg Ball started becoming very active on the national educational scene. As someone that benefited from her expertise when I was a student, I'm sure glad the U did what they needed to retain her through the years.