Emails with the subject line “ASC hours” were sent one-by-one on the morning of Feb. 1.
A week later, the recipients were effectively laid off from the Writing Studio, a department of the Academic Success Center (ASC).
The email, sent by the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies Kevin Yee, read: “I have recently learned that the budget in the ASC has been overspent significantly. To honor our duties to be fiscally responsible and continue to help students succeed, we must examine the current structure of our contracts.”
According to multiple accounts of former and current employees of the Writing Studio, 13 people were laid off by email.
Paul Atchley, dean of Undergraduate Studies, did not confirm this total but he said it’s “close.”
He maintained that the official budget would need to be consulted to know the amount of people laid off. The Oracle requested the budget from the Office of Student Success on Feb. 15 but it has not been received yet.
Yee informed the recipients of the email that although they still have a contract with the ASC, they will no longer be offered any hours at the Writing Studio, effective by the end of the day on Feb. 6.
The email also read, “There will be other cost-cutting implemented in ways small and large throughout the ASC, as well.”
A current employee of the Writing Studio who wished to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation said hours and programs have been cut recently as a result of this.
Previously, the Writing Studio was open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, according to the employee. Now it is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday hours were cut by some, as well, and weekend hours were cut completely.
“We’re working with a smaller staff so hours that were used for other things like outreach or research projects … those hours have all been cut,” the current employee said. “As a result, whereas before, we could kind of have breaks in really long days, doing something that wasn’t consulting on a paper, we no longer have those.”
Currently, graduate students may not freely schedule an appointment at the Writing Studio. The same is true for undergraduates who wish to work on non-coursework related material, like personal statements or scholarship essays.
People in these categories must fill out a petition online which will then be approved or denied on a case-by-case basis by a coordinator at the Writing Studio, according to the anonymous employee.
“I can see how that’s problematic for students because it delays the timeframe in which you could potentially be helped,” the employee said.
Nick Orlando, a laid-off consultant of the Writing Studio and current adjunct professor at Hillsborough Community College, was making $18 an hour and working 24 hours a week. He said this situation was “disheartening” and posits USF as a “leader” in the shift of “the corporatization of higher education.”
“It shows that they’re not interested in student success, they’re interested in how their numbers look… that’s a business move, that’s not an education move,” Orlando said.
Like Orlando, most of the laid-off employees were non-students, although some undergraduate students were also laid off.
“We tried to maintain employment first and foremost for all current students,” Atchley said.
However, Atchley said it was never the Writing Studio’s intention to stop serving the specific needs of graduate students altogether.
“It was never the case that we weren’t going to serve graduate students, it was at what level are we going to serve them,” Atchley said. “It became very clear when we looked at the work that was being done, it was unsustainable, inequitable and not keeping with best practice.
“A writing studio should really be there for writing improvement, it’s not an editing studio.”
Yet employees said here lies the problem: Upper administration does not truly understand the work being done at the Writing Studio.
“We don’t work on the papers, we work on the writer,” the previously mentioned current employee said.
Another employee that wished to remain anonymous said, “Not once have in the year that I’ve been there have I seen him (Atchley) in the Writing Studio because he doesn’t really know what we do.”
Atchley said that while services at the Writing Studio have been expanded in recent years, the budget has remained the same.
“I work for the state of Florida and the state of Florida requires us to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Atchley said. “The first rule, if you find yourself in a hole, is to stop digging and do no harm. It has nothing to do with the value we place on the work.”