Research faculty in limbo

As USF waits for the Florida Legislature to set its new budget, faculty in the College of Medicine are still waiting to see if last year’s budget cuts will leave them unemployed.

The College of Medicine’s $38.3 million budget was reduced last year by $2.3 million. This will affect 23 faculty positions, 14 of them currently employed researchers who could be laid off.Research positions such as biological scientists and lab technicians will be laid off unless the employees can be placed in another position.

Joann Strobbe, associate vice president and dean of Business Affairs and Technology for the College of Medicine, said these positions are affected because 87 percent of its budget is used to support salaries.

“A big chunk comes from salaries,” Strobbe said. “And the federal government will not support infrastructure in administrative positions.”

Strobbe said although it is hard to find another position in the university for research employees, some may be able to avoid losing their job since they are entitled to certain rights.

Research employees are classified under University Support Personnel System employees, who are given layoff rights such as being placed in a vacant position or bumping a non-status employee out of his or her position.

“Not everyone will be out of a job,” Strobbe said. “Many may end up taking a different kind of position.”

Strobbe said another possibility for the employees is to work in a contract grant position awarded to the university from a sponsor. The grant will pay employees to study a specific project, such as the effects of tobacco.

Employees were notified in January that they would be laid off in June if they are not placed in a new position.

“We told people their job is secure until June 20,” Strobbe said. “We will work through the process and get administrative support in trying to place positions.”

The 5 percent universitywide budget cuts last year reduced USF’s budget by about $17 million. More than 20 faculty positions, both filled and vacant, will be abolished in June.

Strobbe said USF’s main priority this legislative session is to get money for research because it provides a learning institution for students and strengthens the economy.

“When the state puts in money for research, it brings money into the state, and that is a way to build economic strength,” Strobbe said. “These are major layoffs.”

Strobbe said this is one of the largest cuts to filled positions since 1989 when she began working at the university.

Michael Hoad, vice president for Health Sciences Advancement, said USF could earn more state money if Gov. Jeb Bush passes the high-technology research initiative in the legislative session.

“It is a key opportunity for USF in general, not just the College of Medicine,” Hoad said. “It is very possible that (the initiative) will give us an opportunity for a major boost in research.”

Hoad said losing researchers would not affect the university’s status, but it wold hurt the College of Medicine’s ability to start new research projects.

“It hurts the college’s ability to develop new grants and projects,” Hoad said. “That’s the critical piece it injures.”

The cuts will also affect vacant positions in the college by eliminating seven vacant faculty positions and two program assistant positions. However, the reductions did not affect any student scholarships or graduate funding.

Strobbe said the decisions to eliminate and lay off positions in the college were made last year during a budget meeting to find the best plan the department could have after the budget cuts.

This spring, the College of Medicine will have another meeting to discuss its budget and priorities, which they hope to restore money to faculty positions.

“We hope the economy rebounds, and the money will be restored,” she said.

  • Contact Grace Agostinat