Editorial: Academics need protecting during cuts

A week from today, Florida’s legislators will decide the extent of budget cuts needed to balance the state’s $1.5 billion shortfall. These budget cuts will undoubtedly rip into the State University System, and USF leaders and legislators need to protect academics as much as possible.

Like bulldogs protecting their pen, administrators and lobbyists are making sure all universities get a fair cut when the ax comes down.

And when that happens, it is then up to the state’s 11 universities as to where the cuts will be made.

Carl Carlucci, vice president for Budgets, Human Resources and Information Technology, said USF’s goal is to stay as far as possible from cutting into academics. That is a more than admirable goal, but the sad truth is that academics are going to be affected no matter what the cut.

On the table is a proposed cut of 5 percent. That percentage amounts to a $14.1 million loss to USF. And there is talk that 5 percent may not be enough; talk that cuts could be as high as 9 percent.

Right now, Carlucci has asked department heads to look for places where they can cut back in areas such as travel and purchases.

But if professors can’t travel to a conference, those professors can’t share the knowledge they would have gained with their students.

While the cuts will inevitably affect education, every step must be taken to keep the effects at a minimum.

USF has been through cuts before, but even the most seasoned lobbyists, such as USF’s own Kathy Betancourt, said the situation doesn’t look good.

Faculty are showing a growing concern for themselves and the courses they teach. With drastic cuts come the possibilities of hiring freezes and holds on pay increases. These also translate to fewer classes being offered.

While the cuts are slated for the next fiscal year 2002-03, Carlucci said steps will have to be taken now to ensure less drastic measures when the time comes.

Students are the ultimate consumers in higher education and university leaders need to avoid sacrificing the product.