USF reacts to chairs’ concerns

As the University struggles to decide where and how to slash millions of dollars from its budget, department chairs are fighting to defend the viability of their programs.

A special committee known as the Budget Priorities Taskforce reviewed every department at the USF Tampa campus – not counting USF Health – and provided an analysis Feb. 29 of how critical each area was to the University and its goals. Department chairs were given until March 14 to respond to the taskforce’s recommendations with any corrections, clarifications or rebuttals.

The chairs provided evidence to back up any statements they made, which was compiled into a report released Thursday.

Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said he felt that giving department chairs a chance to add their input to the report benefited the University in three ways.

“First, some felt that some of the information presented was incorrect or incomplete, and this gave them the opportunity to express that,” he said. “(Second), some disagreed with the taskforce’s interpretation of their department, and so they provided their own narrative of their (departments). Third, it allowed them to go beyond the parameters of what the taskforce considered and offer additional factors for all parties involved to review.”

The taskforce ranked each department on a scale of 1-5 based on four criteria: centrality, quality, demand and sustainability.

In his response letter, mechanical engineering department chair Rajiv Dubey said he found it difficult to correlate the ratings of various departments with the data provided, as multiple subcommittees reviewed the departments, and data that one subcommittee may deem deserving of a moderate ranking could receive a high ranking by another.

Dubey suggested that the University engage in some comparative measures to ensure that the ratings of departments were fairly matched across the board. While Smith said he supported the idea, he found it very difficult to do.

“The (taskforce) report was not cross-checked,” he said. “There’s almost no way of doing that. Consider it like when two people take a class and essentially the syllabus is the same, but the students get different grades because they have different instructors … there are many factors involved in the subcommittee’s decisions.”

Some departments have been more vocal in the fight to retain funding for their programs.

The women’s studies department will hold a support meeting Thursday in the Grace Allen room of the Library to discuss the program’s importance to the University.

“Many of us have ideas as well as questions about how the budget crisis will affect the department, the major, the minor, certificate programs and graduate studies,” department chair Kim Vaz wrote in an e-mail about the event. “We would like to begin that discussion and become better informed about what exactly is being suggested and what options are on the table.”

Shortly after the initial taskforce report was released, rumors began to circulate about whether women’s studies and Africana studies would merge to form a race and gender studies department. Smith said he hadn’t heard anything about it.

“It sounds like something out there for consideration,” he said.

“Rumors are rampant all over campus because this is a very tense time, but I can say that no decision like that has been made.”

Smith said that the taskforce report and the chairs’ responses would make up only one portion of how cuts are determined. For now, he said, the University is preparing for the Legislature’s final budget cut amount by developing budget scenarios.

“Essentially we’re saying, ‘if the budget was this, what would we do?’ or ‘if the budget was that, what would we do?'” he said. “Literally, the economic picture is changing every week. We’d been considering 15 percent as the high point for budget cuts, but the latest from the Legislature – and this is not definite – is that it could be more like 15.4 or 15.5 percent.”

Sherman Dorn, associate professor of psychological and social foundations and president of USF’s Chapter of United Faculty of Florida, said the chairs’ responses reflected their passion for their work and the tension regarding the fiscal status of the University.

“I’m sure that is what their nightmare is – staying up thinking about layoffs about the faculty they represent,” he said of chairs coping with budget cuts and worrying about department mergers.

Provost Ralph Wilcox, who said he hadn’t had a chance to look at the report, said the Provost’s office and his executive leadership team were continuing to meet with department chairs and deans and reviewing responses to discuss the taskforce’s findings and other budgetary issues.

Additional reporting by Victoria Bekiempis.