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Can the liberal arts departments have a dollar?

While waiting for my last class of the day to start Thursday afternoon, I started discussing graduation with a few of the women in my British Novel class. Two of them were graduating and moving on to graduate school, the other – like myself – was asking questions about graduation gown and invitation costs.

During the discussion, one happened to mention a graduation survey e-mailed to her by USF, asking graduates to rate certain aspects of campus life. It was obvious to me that she was a more dedicated student than I by the sheer fact that she actually opened the e-mail and continued to read after the first line.

But one question caught my attention. The survey asks the graduate to rate three things they liked least about the campus.

I pondered this question throughout class and came up with about 300 things I dislike about this campus, but only a few actually struck a truly hard chord with me. It seems students are promised the same three things every year: better parking, better athletics and better professors.

Please don’t misconstrue what I am about to say as ignorance – I fully realize the University has been making strides in bettering each of these situations. The football team is headed for its second bowl game in two years, a new parking garage just opened, and I’m sure there are plenty of new professors busily preparing their students for finals.

My problem lies with the qualifications and abilities of some of these professors. USF makes claims such as “higher tuition will afford for a better staff” or “higher tuition will help us create better learning environments.”

There’s that word again – better. But I have to ask – better compared to what?

Maybe the Board of Trustees knows the answer. After all, they are the ones who approved USF President Judy Genshaft’s $37,000 bonus from the USF Foundation on Thursday afternoon.

I am not here to criticize the pay increase – I would rather remain oblivious than know whether she actually deserved it. But at least it sounds like she’s doing somewhat “better.” I just want an explanation for why USF’s president continues to receive salary bonuses while the professors remain underpaid.

All around this campus there are professors who are dedicated to their field. They enjoy teaching and might not ever leave, but the University isn’t doing enough to make sure they don’t.

Yes, I can acknowledge that the University focuses on research – mainly in the fields of medicine and technology. I can also acknowledge that a large majority of funding generally comes from alumni donations, and typically the highest paid alumni are those that graduate with degrees from programs located on the west side of campus.

But departments such as English and history must also compete with other state universities, yet they obviously don’t receive the same funding.

This must change.

If USF plans to keep dedicated liberal arts professors, it needs to start soliciting donations for the east side of campus and less for administrators. It is painfully obvious that the University hasn’t started churning out poet laureates or Kluge prize winners, and thus donations will not hold up to the standard set by the rest of campus.

Students don’t want to major in liberal arts because they see no money in it. Those who do generally resign themselves to teaching high school – much like the women I talked to in my class, for instance. It’s a terrible cycle the University has gotten itself into, and the only way out is through funding assistance.

Taking a short walk through the English department office in Cooper Hall, I would be hard pressed to find even one faculty member who couldn’t put $37,000 to good use in the department.

So where is the better? They’ll be shaking hands with Genshaft next weekend. If USF has any hope of ever seeing them again, it will re-evaluate its financial priorities.

Suzanne Parks is a senior majoring in English literature.