Budget cuts continue at USF

After weathering a $12 million cut that brought about a Fall semester of shorter Library hours, swollen class sizes and an institution-wide hiring freeze, students and administrators are bracing for a bigger budgetary blow following Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting. At the meeting, trustees discussed Florida’s souring economy and its effect on the University, which won’t receive an additional $14 million from the state this spring.

University administrators also said Florida will likely take in $1 billion less in taxes than legislators originally predicted, meaning the state’s budget may be shaved by a total of $2 billion and USF’s by $26 million.

Worse may be in store for the University, however. Administrators at USF and other State University System institutions are waiting for a special legislative session in March to determine whether the state congress will levy more cuts on SUS schools this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Provost Ralph Wilcox said USF will handle the cuts in a way that best maintains the quality of education and the culture of research at USF, though no concrete plans are set for how the University will do so. A group comprising students, faculty and staff is working to figure out how USF can save $12 million – either by consolidating academic units or eliminating programs – and will turn in its list of recommendations to Wilcox by February.

“I don’t want to make any decision or take any action that is going to negatively impact a professor’s ability to continue their world-class research agenda,” Wilcox said. “Our overarching goals are to seek cost savings in the University that don’t negatively impact the quality of the academic programs.”

Wilcox also said the University is concerned with helping students graduate on time, and that there was a policy in store to buffer the effects of a hiring freeze.

Deans will be able to petition for special consideration if they need to hire someone. The hire will depend on demand for professors’ subject matter, academic and research achievements and accolades. It will also depend on whether the hire is considered ‘sustainable’ – that is, whether the program for which a professor is hired will still be around in several years, Wilcox said.

In keeping with long-term budget planning and the possibility that cuts may deepen, Genshaft told vice presidents of the University to figure out how to cut 15 percent from the budget.

“The cuts we are facing are real,” she said in a Web cast posted on usf.edu Thursday evening. “Our action to address them must be bold.”

Cutting deeper into educational quality

Sherman Dorn, associate professor of education and president of USF’s chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, worried that this round of cuts might slow USF’s development and weaken the quality of education.

“It is going to put USF back at least five years if these funding cuts continue,” he said. “If you’re admitted to USF, it does no good if you can’t find the classes to graduate.”

He also thought the shortfall reflected bigger problems in SUS funding.

“The state has operated the last two decades with a yo-yo system of funding, as the chancellor has said,” Dorn said, referring to SUS Chancellor Mark B. Rosenberg. “The students are going to suffer the fallout of this system.”

William McClelland, president of AFL-CIO affiliate American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents 2,000 non-faculty, non-graduate student staffers at USF, feared budget cuts would hurt staff, possibly in terms of layoffs and pay cuts.

“The staff is looked to first during budget cuts and last in recovery,” he said. The AFSCME, which sought arbitration Thursday for two staffers who took serious pay cuts, also hoped the University’s approach to budget cuts would not be shortsighted, as McClelland felt it had been in the past.

“Cutting staff is not a good long-term solution,” he said.

Students question cut’s impactStudents’ reactions to the cuts ranged from concerns about the quality of academic programs to basic campus services.

“I’m an art student and there’s not a lot of budgeting for that anyway,” said sophomore Kimberly Bell. “We need better equipment. I was in a drawing class last semester, and a lot of the easels were falling apart.”

Samuel Conserve, a senior majoring in biomedical science, thought the budget situation could worsen students’ experience at USF.

“It doesn’t go in our favor,” he said. “With budget cuts, we’re going to have less resources to benefit students.”

“I hope the budget cuts don’t affect parking,” said Ramez Guirguis, a senior majoring in economics.

Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said the news of the cuts took him and other administrators by surprise. USF, which receives money from the state every two weeks, realized just last week that its allocation was 3.8 percent less than it had been in the fall.

“It showed up quicker than they’d expected,” Smith said.

He also said USF would likely be able to offer summer classes. The University of Florida said last week that it would consider not offering summer school, according to the Alligator.

“I feel comfortable in saying there will be summer school in some form this year, but it may be substantially scaled back,” he said.

Smith said he and other administrators were waiting for March to know exactly how much money USF is allocated. In the meantime, though, he did not have additional comments.

“I’m just stocking up on aspirin,” he said.

With additional reporting by Christine Gibson.