Cuts curtail new faculty hires

Faced with the possibility of USF’s budget being cut by 15 percent or more between this year and the next, administrators have had to review one key educational component to shave funds – faculty hiring.

Provost Ralph Wilcox, along with other members of the provost’s office and the co-chairs of the Budget Committee Task Force, received prioritized lists of open faculty positions from the deans of every college in the University over the past two weeks. After reviewing the list, the group approved 33 of the 54 positions. The rest, Wilcox said, will have to go unfilled for the time being.

“I want to be sure that the faculty members we do hire next year are those that will be able to contribute most centrally to the University’s strategic priorities and best meet the needs of our students in terms of classes needed in order to graduate,” he said. “Those are really our two driving considerations as we look at which positions we’re going to fill and which we are going to freeze.”

Two other factors played significant roles in selecting which faculty positions would be approved: whether someone had recently been hired for the position, and whether the position would be partly funded by alternative sources of revenue such as grants, said Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith.

Of the 33 positions approved, 11 went to the College of Arts and Sciences, seven to the College of Engineering, four to both the College of Education and the College of Visual and Performing Arts, one to the School of Architecture and one to Marine Science. The College of Business Administration and the Florida Mental Health Institute received two approvals each.

“The vast majority of those (positions approved) were replacement positions, meaning that their lines were created from people who left last year for whatever reason – retirements, resignations – and so the money was already sitting there for them,” Smith said. “It wasn’t necessarily that we pushed a lot more money at certain colleges – it was just a matter of their structural situation and how many replacement positions they had open.”

A period of anxietyThough Wilcox said he is not yet considering faculty layoffs, Smith said it is too soon to definitively say whether layoffs will occur.

“It’s hard to say what will happen, and that goes back to the fact that we’re in this anxiety-ridden period where we’re waiting to know what the true magnitude of our budget reduction will be,” Smith said. “We’re trying to set the stage now so we’re not caught so totally unprepared when it comes down to it. We keep using the term ’15 percent’ — that’s our estimate – but the truth is, it could be less than that, but the doomsday scenario is that it could be more.”

Faculty positions are a major factor in determining where to save money, as salaries and benefits constitute 71 percent of the Educational and General Budgeted Expenditures (also known as E&G funds) in USF’s 2007-2008 operating budget. The Florida Legislature appropriates these funds for the University each year, and they account for 23 percent of the University’s total budget, Smith said.

“These funds are the heart and soul of the budget,” he said. “They’re the recurring state appropriations, and they’re what we can count on when it comes to budgeting … the rest is all tied up in other sources of funding.”

Out of the $371.9 million E&G funds allotted for USF during the 2007-2008 fiscal year, Smith said the University is preparing to lose $52 million of that, with $35 million coming from academic affairs, which will impact the number of faculty members hired and the number of courses offered.

“What sort of sent all of this panic in motion is that we were down in November, we were down in December – down meaning below the estimated revenues that were projected – so everybody’s kind of waiting with bated breath to see how January checks out,” Smith said. “If, for instance, it looks like we met the revenue expectation or exceeded it, we may have a more moderated chop than we thought. But if it’s below that, then it could be even worse.”

Colleges’ cost-cutting conundrumAs the deans prepared their prioritized lists of position hires, each had to weigh various methods of cutting costs.

“We’re faced with deciding whether to cut across the board, or picking areas to shut down,” Dr. Stephen Klasko, vice president of USF Health, wrote in an e-mail. “Neither path is a good way to ensure a creative future for education. Budget cuts reduce flexibility, because the majority of any budget is already spent on people – on salary support. The budget cut earlier this year swept any vacant positions, which means departments that are trying to develop new programs are stymied.”

Klasko said that E&G funds account for approximately 15 percent of USF Health’s $450 million budget.

“In our three colleges, education and general funds provided by the state support, primarily, faculty engaged in teaching,” he said. “Our No. 1 priority therefore has to be preserving our ability to offer the courses our students need. We’re determined to ensure the quality of education doesn’t fall. But there may be new courses that faculty want to offer that will have to be delayed, potentially for several years.”

For the College of Engineering, which was allowed to fill two positions, Dean John Wiencek said he has focused on talking to the faculty to determine where to cut.

“In our case (with the last cut), we had a dialogue with the faculty and developed a list of priorities and developed a master list of areas where we could cut,” he said. “Then I looked at those two things and sort of spread the cuts around to cover the deficit we had.”

After the 3.6 percent cut in the fall, Wiencek said the College of Engineering responded by changing funding for some research staff from E&G funds to research grants, and by choosing not to refill a staff position in the engineering computing services after the staff member in the position retired.

“As cuts continue, though, we’re not going to be able to be so gracious in the way we handle cuts,” he said. “We’re going to have to make very hard decisions, and it’s going to be very difficult.”