Jeremi Suri
Jeremi Suri.

Jeremi Suri has fielded outside job offers before.

But in the past, the history professor always turned down more lucrative overtures to remain at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That changed this week when the highly regarded expert of international history and American foreign policy decided to take his talents to the University of Texas at Austin.

"I love this place and am very sad about leaving, but it's been a really hard year here," says Suri. "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."

Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill will force public workers, including those at UW-Madison, to absorb cuts in take-home pay by making them contribute more toward health insurance and retirement benefits. In addition, the governor's proposed 2011-13 biennial budget cuts $125 million in state aid to UW-Madison over the next two years.

"I think morale is low here," says Suri. "There's a lot of uncertainty and a lot of worry -- and legitimate worry -- about where things are going. That definitely played a role in my decision. This isn't the first time Texas or other places have called me. But Texas called two months ago when things were blowing up, and I just decided it was time to seriously consider what they were offering."

And what Texas offered is significant: Suri will nearly double his annual salary -- from $113,000 to $220,000.

But it was about more than money. Suri will be the Mack Brown Chair for Global Leadership, a position which involves working in Texas' history department, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

"Austin has made a priority out of doing interdisciplinary, international, global work," says Suri. "For me, that's very exciting to be a part of. I'm a historian who uses historical analysis to try to help to improve contemporary policy making."

Suri, the E. Gordon Fox professor of history, has spent 10 years in Madison. He also serves as the director of UW-Madison's European Union Center of Excellence and the university's Grand Strategy Program, and is a senior fellow at the Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy

"It is a loss, no question," says David McDonald, a UW-Madison history professor who chaired that department from 2006-10. "He was not only a highly visible scholar in his field, but he was a very popular and gifted teacher. He had always garnered a great deal of interest from other institutions but when offered the chance he had always elected to stay in Wisconsin. But Texas made an extremely attractive offer."

McDonald says that during his four years as chair of the history department, 14 professors received serious outside job offers, with two moving on.

"If people want to understand the environment in which our university has to compete, this is it," says McDonald. "We are especially vulnerable and the frequency of these challenges is probably going to increase in the years to come."

Although regarded as a first-rate scholar, Suri is known for making efforts to reach a broad and diverse audience with his writing and commentary.

"He was incredibly conscientious about outreach to the community," says McDonald. "He gave public talks to service clubs and local community groups and did workshops. He was on public radio (Thursday) morning talking about the president's speech on the Middle East. And so he made himself very available. We probably overuse this term, but he really did embody the Wisconsin Idea and I know he took that very seriously."

Suri also wasn't afraid to speak his mind on campus. In the fall of 2008, he resigned his seat on the UW Athletic Board because he felt it had become a rubber stamp for the desires of the athletic department.

"Winning is important," Suri told the Cap Times in 2008. "Hey, I'm a huge sports fan and am very competitive in my professional work. But winning is not everything. There are a lot of schools that win a lot that we would not want to model ourselves on such as Ohio State. We're supposed to be better than that. I hold us to a higher standard."

The chair he will hold at Texas is funded by Longhorns football coach Mack Brown.

"He actually raised money for the chair," says Suri. "That's pretty ironic, isn't it?"

Suri's award-winning books include "Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente" and "Henry Kissinger and the American Century."  Another book, "A Nation-Building People: The Past and Future of American Politics at Home and Abroad," is due out in mid-September.

Suri, a native of New York, earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, a master's from Ohio University and a Ph.D. from Yale University.

During his stay at UW-Madison, Suri has won several awards, including: Class of 1955 Distinguished Teaching Award from the UW-Madison in 2006; the Dorothy and Hsin-Nung Yao Teaching Award from UW-Madison in 2004; the Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer from 2004-07; and the Phi Alpha Theta Best First Book Award in 2003 for "Power and Protest."

In June, Suri will head to Oslo, Norway, for a visiting research fellowship at the Nobel Institute. In July he'll be giving lectures at the University of Oxford.

He will leave for Austin in August and start his new post at Texas in the fall semester.

"Quite frankly, I feel guilty about leaving," says Suri. "I've been treated very well here. But I also think this shows the need for granting (UW-Madison) more flexibilities. And if our institution isn't given the resources or allowed more flexibility from state oversight, we're going to be stuck in place. I'm very worried about future retention here and having the resources to do the kinds of innovative work that's necessary to remain a great university."

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