A task force dedicated to shaving $12 million from the University’s budget has released its recommendations for cutting funds, though the report’s suggestions can cut only about half of that.
Instead of offering specific information as to where every dollar would be slashed, the Budget Priorities Advisory Taskforce’s report serves as more of a guide of areas that could withstand funding cuts while still advancing the University’s strategic goals, said Senior Vice Provost
Dwayne Smith. Because of the vagueness of the recommendations, he said that attributing a monetary figure to the report’s findings is a challenge.
“I can’t say exactly how much would be cut, but judging by a cursory glance of the figures – taken absolutely verbatim – I’d say about $5 (million) to $6 million,” he said. “This (report) creates a process that we can draw from later, and this is by no means the only source to determine where to cut funding.”
The report divided faculty and staff into 11 subcommittees, and each reviewed different departments within the University. USF Health and the regional campuses were not included in the task force’s research, Smith said.
Task force co-chair John Ward said decisions were made based on four criteria: centrality, quality, demand and sustainability of the department or program. After evaluating all of the University’s departments, the task force found three traits that characterized the report. These main recommendations include requiring centers and institutes to move toward self-sufficiency and away from state funding, offer additional resources to high-priority departments and programs, and eliminate, consolidate or realign departments that reduce the budget without hindering the goals of USF’s strategic plan.
No major changesDespite rumors that the University may eliminate majors with lower enrollments, Smith said that the provost has no intention of doing so. This does not mean, however, that the University will not change its methods for offering certain majors.
This could involve consolidating some departments so that all of the current majors can be offered, Smith said.
“Students will be able to get a degree in their major of choice, but we can’t promise that the department it’s offered in will remain freestanding,” he said.
No talk of taking tenureThe provost will also work to ensure that lines of tenure and tenure-track faculty are not affected by budget cuts, according to the report. Some support staff members were cut last fall after the first round of budget cuts, Smith said, and the University has scaled back its intended faculty hires as a way of avoiding layoffs.
Should the budget cuts intensify, the University will resort to eliminating adjunct professors first, then visiting lines, before cutting untenured instructors’ positions, which would follow collective bargaining agreements, Smith said.
Sherman Dorn, associate professor of psychological and social foundations, also said that an article in the United Faculty Florida’s (UFF) collective bargaining agreement with the University made clear that USF cannot refuse to give tenure to a faculty member because of budget issues. What could be complicated for faculty, however, is transfer to a new department if departments or programs are merged, as he or she will be in a new setting. It is also unclear how faculty evaluations will be handled if such a situation arises.
Smith said these recommendations will help the provost navigate budget cuts that have not yet been finalized, which could call for the University to lose 15 percent of the recurring funds it receives from the state. This could mean a loss of $52 million from USF, with $34 million coming from academic affairs, he said.
“Right now we’re starting to set the stage, so to speak,” Smith said. “The doomsday scenario is that (the state Legislature) drops a large budget cut that has to be in place by July 1 (the start of the 2008-2009 fiscal year). Then we’ll really be scrambling.”
An unusual processCreating a task force that makes faculty members an integral part of decisions affecting the budget cut is a first for USF, and is uncommon at most State University System institutions.
“The sense I got from other universities today (while at a meeting with other university provosts) is that most of the other universities are using input from academic affairs rather than engaging faculty, staff and students in a comprehensive way,” said Provost Ralph Wilcox. “I don’t want to speak for other institutions, but that seemed to be the case.”
The University of Florida has a similar task force in place, said director of the UF news bureau Steve Orlando, though this is not the traditional method for many universities.
“Typically the deans and the provost make a decision of where to cut funds and then show them to faculty, and then it’s too late (to recommend changes),” task force co-chair and physics graduate program director Dale Johnson said.
Also, to provide additional faculty input on the matter, Smith forwarded the report to all of the department chairs. They have until March 14 to submit their responses to the report and offer counter evidence should they feel that the task force’s recommendations contain errors.
Dorn, who is also the president of USF’s chapter of the UFF, said department chairs might worry about the report’s portrayal of their programs.
“I think anybody who is in a department or center that is criticized as weak is going to be deeply concerned about that,” he said. “No faculty member is going to volunteer to dissolve their own department.”
Additional reporting provided by Cynthia Roldan.