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How to ruin a university

A great public university needs both the support of the general public and good relationships within the institution. The converse is also true: there are two ways to destroy a public university, from without and within.

The Florida legislature is currently perfecting destruction from the outside. House Speaker Johnnie Byrd says that the budget he has been writing comes from his desire for the state to live within its means and to avoid raising taxes. Students at Florida’s public universities will discover this fall that Speaker Byrd did not include them in his benevolent view of shelling out money. Or maybe he meant for us all to live within his mean-spiritedness.

If you are a student, you may not care whether your bills are called taxes or tuition. You will still be paying more. But you’ll be getting less–fewer opportunities to take required classes and less time with individual teachers who are forced into handling larger classes. Faculty knows this is a recipe for poor education.

In some ways, there is no good option with a bad budget. Firing instructors and lecturers will strip USF of much diversity in its teaching force. Forty percent of non-adjunct Latino teachers and 43 percent of non-adjunct female teachers at USF in the fall of 2002 were instructors and lecturers (in contrast to 31 percent of all non-adjunct instructional faculty at USF and 24 percent of non-adjunct male teachers). Instructor and lecturer positions fall disproportionately in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education, and Nursing.

But firing tenure-track assistant professors would be worse for the long-term hopes of the university. These new scholars are what the university requires for the future, both for teaching students and also for research. Conducting a tenure-track search is both expensive and time-consuming, and firing an assistant professor is simply a waste of money. In addition, tenure-track layoffs will destroy whatever national reputation remains for USF. If this administration lays off assistant professors, word will quickly spread around the country that the university is not a safe place to build a career.

Faculty are also concerned with the human consequences for some of our colleagues who are already being told by the university that they no longer have a job. In some cases, instructors with many years of service are being told their contracts will not be renewed, sometimes with just a few weeks notice. The majority of faculty represented by the United Faculty of Florida is not tenured. They are either on the track to tenure or in positions where they never could earn tenure. They are our most vulnerable colleagues.

We do not know the full scale of the dismissals the university has started or is contemplating. A few of our colleagues have contacted the union office, but many have not. The United Faculty of Florida needs accurate information, from faculty and staff, about the human and programmatic consequences of budget cuts. We need someone from each academic department to contact the chapter’s grievance chair, Mark Klisch (, with concrete information about layoffs and terminations. It is only armed with information that we can fight for a better USF.

We have asked the administration to meet with union representatives to talk about the human costs of layoffs, and I expect that they will be open about what they are planning. I would not be surprised if the USF Faculty Senate sees the budget crisis as a test of the administration’s promise of collegial governance. Unfortunately, the administration is facing another test created by external political pressures. I hope it does better on this one.

Roy Weatherford is the USF Chapter President of the United Faculty of Florida