Genshaft cashes in

Last Thursday I sat in a room in the Administration building with other local journalists and listened to the Board of Trustees give USF President Judy Genshaft a raise of $16,320 and a $35,000 “performance-based bonus.”

All involved, most notably BOT chairman Dick Beard, made it quite clear that they thought the conference call a mere formality. The charade that ensued was the latest example of what is wrong with the leadership at USF.

None of the BOT members, including Genshaft, had shown up in person for the meeting, but instead elected to do it by conference call. The call itself lasted about 18 minutes and consisted of little more than a roll call, an objection from student body President Bijal Chhadva and a rather lame non-objection from Faculty Senate President Susan Greenbaum. Greenbaum said she did not feel obligated to oppose the raise even though she knew most of the faculty objected to it. We’ll see how well that goes over with the faculty, but they will likely not be dancing in the streets.

Chhadva read a resolution the SG Senate had passed the prior night after debating about it at length. This move had the potential of sending the right message to Genshaft — the students are watching what you are doing and you can’t get away with everything — but undermined itself by praising Genshaft in the same breath. Considering the lengthy process Chhadva went through before voicing the objection, it felt rather toothless.

Chhadva nevertheless seemed upbeat about it and later said, “They did acknowledge what I had to say.”

And that they did, but probably not in the way Chhadva had hoped. After only Chhadva voted against an increase of Genshaft’s already-respectably salary, Beard acknowledged the votes with the words “unanimous with the exception of one,” which was followed by quiet but audible laughter from at least one person.

Is a raise of $16,320 with a $35,000 bonus — both of which are objected to by the student body and a large part of the faculty — a laughing matter? I think not, but somebody who was on the conference call seemed to think otherwise.

A moment of truth came when Chhadva was momentarily confused by the procedure Beard had laid out for the meeting. “Are we going to be discussing after the motion?” he asked, to which Beard replied in the affirmative. Chhadva then asked to clarify, “Are we going to vote first and then be discussing?” Beard informed him that they would not.

What was likely the effect of Chhadva being unfamiliar with the procedure of BOT meetings spelled out the unspoken truth that hung in the room: The thing was a done deal and the meeting just a formality. Nobody expected an actual discussion.

The problem is that the USF president is appointed and/or fired by the BOT. The president also sits on the BOT and has a vote in the Board’s discussions. In an example of quid pro quo politics, the BOT and Genshaft have been close, sticking out every crisis together, ranging from the USF faculty being without contract for over two years (which did not stop Greenbaum from praising Genshaft for the job she did finally getting the two sides to reconcile) to dealing with Professor Sami Al-Arian when he was under investigation for alleged ties to terrorism yet remained on USF’s payroll. This often was done without a system of checks and balances, as the BOT and Genshaft quietly made most of the decisions behind closed doors. Even when the plan was to not comment — a tactic apparently still pursued in the ongoing Al-Arian saga — the BOT and Genshaft didn’t break ranks, ignoring criticism from students and faculty.

The discussion of money naturally hit an especially sore spot, as funding is scarce university-wide.

For example, the School of Architecture, while being nationally respected, is housed in a crumbling building which offers barely enough room for its students. The faculty’s recent pay increase is hardly keeping up with the inflation rate and tuition has increased about 20 percent in the past four years alone.

While it is true that funds earmarked for one sector cannot be transferred to other areas at a whim due to guidelines that must be followed, it is safe to say Genshaft is already being paid handsomely.

Over the Christmas break of ’02-’03, the BOT gave Genshaft a five-year, $1.6-million contract with a $325,000 annual base salary. Her salary already included items such a driver she doesn’t use and funds allotted for her husband. While Beard kept stating repeatedly that Genshaft’s latest pay increase is not high enough, she would not have had to wonder how to pay her bills if she had not gotten the raise.

With an underpaid faculty and a student body whose tuition keeps increasing every semester while grants and scholarships are being cut, the USF administration should ask itself what kind of message such behavior sends to the people they share a campus with.

More and more, USF resembles a moneymaking endeavor, not an institution of higher learning. By ignoring what students and faculty may think of Genshaft now getting even more money than before, USF is again taking another step down the path of a diploma mill. Even though the BOT and Genshaft may be getting away with giving themselves raises, it is hardly sending the right message to the rest of the USF community.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and is the Oracle’s Opinion Editor.