USF President Judy Genshaft used her spring address Monday to discuss the issues revolving around the university.
Genshaft did not talk about a possible cancellation of classes during summer of 2004 or the loss of adjunct positions due to severe budget cuts. She did not discuss the American Association of University Professors, which has threatened censure against USF for alleged violations of academic freedom. She also did not mention controversial former professor Sami Al-Arian.
Instead, Genshaft chose her words carefully. She said the university has, in the past year, “faced trials,” some of which have brought national and international media to her doorstep.
“These issues have challenged me personally to hear all aspects of (the issues),” Genshaft said.
The university has been under attack, particularly for its handling of the Al-Arian situation, as a place that restricts academic speech. Genshaft said the past year has proven that is not the case. She said USF has welcomed several controversial speakers, including acclaimed author Salman Rushdie.
“We’ve shown the community that USF is a place for free and open dialogue,” Genshaft said.
Of major concern for faculty and students since the beginning of the current legislative cycle is the effect a possible $115-million university funding cut will have on USF. Genshaft praised the legislature for its hard work on the budget and blamed the difficult financial times on the economy and the class size amendment, which was passed by voters in November.
“I won’t try to sugarcoat things. The current situation is challenging for all universities,” Genshaft said. “I’m very impressed with (USF’s) lobbying efforts and strong presence in Tallahassee. (But) we know, too, we have to make very hard choices on this campus.”
Genshaft said she was waiting to see the final result from the legislature, which will continue its session until early May. She did not elaborate on what the “very hard choices” might be.
Genshaft said, however, it is important for “all parties to pull together.”
“Whatever happens, I’m sure (USF) will not just survive, but prosper,” she said. “(USF will be) strengthened by the struggle.”
Another issue of concern for the faculty in recent months has been collective bargaining. Faculty distrust grew against Genshaft when it was perceived that she and the administration would not bargain a new contract with the faculty union. At one point, faculty union president Roy Weatherford said: “They’re going to screw us.”
Genshaft praised recent efforts of collaboration with the union and Faculty Senate. She promised to continue working toward a new contract.
“I fully intend to maintain a partnership and negotiate with the (faculty union),” Genshaft said. “I fully expect a timely and satisfactory meeting of the minds.”
Genshaft used much of the rest of her 25-minute speech to “celebrate the resiliency” of USF. While she praised several of the year’s accomplishments, she said USF needs to follow the administration’s strategic plan to harbor future growth.
Genshaft said, in following the strategic plan, USF should work with the community while maintaining a sense of accountability.
“We are meeting (the needs of society), but notice, with the strategic plan,” Genshaft said. “We can’t be all things to all people. We must set goals. … There must be supporting data to prove our accomplishments.”
Genshaft said the USF community will keep in mind all efforts are ultimately designed for education. She said the time has come for USF to take a leadership role and become a premier research university.
“The past year has been an intense and (important) time for every American. (It has) put a unique pressure on the academy,” Genshaft said. “American society needs us now more than ever. Higher education is critical for the preservation of democracy. We must take the hand we are dealt and shape it.”