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February 10, 2016

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» Brain Drain

Joe Sanders
Professor Joe Sanders says Columbus State University, where he now teaches, is devoted to the arts and is growing. [Photo: Lara Rossignol]
When Joe Sanders moved to Tallahassee in 2006 from the University of Georgia as a professor and chairman of the art department at Florida State University, he imagined he would stay put for a while as he helped the university expand its art programs and rise in national rankings.

But three years later, Sanders, his wife and two teenagers were packing up again. This past fall, he left FSU for Columbus State University, a 9,000-student campus on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in western Georgia, where he is the Alan F. Rothschild Distinguished Chair in Art and a professor in the College of Arts.

Sanders represents the many university professors and staffers who left the state in 2009 as a result of Florida's economic crisis and the impact of the Legislature's funding decisions on higher education. State University System data show Florida's 11 public universities eliminated 2,800 positions in 2009 alone. Most of those were vacancies or retirements; only 350 were layoffs. But Florida's universities reported an increasing "brain drain" along the lines of Sanders, who says he left FSU in large part because of lack of financial support for his department.

FSU has long been known for its arts programs. But, counting Sanders, the art department will be down to seven professors by the summer. Its once large-scale ceramics program has been downsized. Sanders was particularly worried about the future after his studio art program and other art programs showed up on an official list of 21 programs targeted for elimination or restructuring if the economy worsened.

Columbus State may be smaller, Sanders says, but he feels good about being on a campus that has new facilities, is devoted to the arts and is growing. The pay is better, too.

The downside: "Leaving a truly incredible group of faculty colleagues at FSU," he says. "They faced adversity for two years, and they continued to really push themselves and really push their department. They did a pretty good job of keeping their morale up and looking toward the future.

"We were all looking to the future for an upturn." — Cynthia Barnett

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