USF needs to be very careful. The school is at a crux in its development.
The underlying problem, unsurprisingly, is money. The University has exceptionally high potential for growth – especially in its research endeavors – but little revenue with which to fund expansion. The United Faculty of Florida wants higher wages and health care benefits for the same-sex domestic partners of University employees, among other things. The student body wants more classes offered at more convenient times in more attractive buildings, as well as the ability to create schedules that allow them to graduate in four years.
In trying to provide all this, USF needs to avoid a few mistakes. It should start by looking away from the state.
The money needed to fund everything simply can’t come from the state. After the $5.8 billion property tax overhaul goes into effect – it’s already been approved by the House Government Efficiency and Accountability Council, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – the whole state is going to be pinched. Sarah Blakely, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Counties, told the Sun-Sentinel even the ability of Florida’s counties to provide free library books might be endangered. The state is in no position to give the State University System more money.
The University also needs to avoid putting all its eggs in one basket. The concerns of the UFF and USF undergraduates deserve just as much attention as the University’s research goals. With money from the Public Education Capital Outlay and Debt Service Trust Fund (PECO) at a competitive premium, it may be necessary to postpone researchprojects. The desire for “feathers in the cap” of the University, such as big new research institutions on campus, are not worth alienating the faculty (due to low wages and unsatisfactory benefits) and the students (due to an insufficient number of classes held in decrepit buildings). This is especially true if the University wishes to increase tuition rates to solve its money problems, which may be necessary in the near future. President Genshaft is simply incorrect: The University will not live or die by its admission to the Association of American Universities.
This is a case of a university being too eager, not a miserly Board of Governors. The BOG has already approved more than $230 million worth of PECO funding for USF’s three-year projected list. All USF needs to do to make it work is take a step back from its research goals temporarily and stop trying to do everything at the same time.