EDITORIAL: USF’s financial decisions hurt educational diversity

Florida’s financial conundrum and its effect on education have been well reported. Each level of public education, and various institutions within those levels, has taken different approaches to cut costs and make sure needs are met.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that Florida Rep. Juan Zapata introduced a bill to cut administrative costs in Florida school districts by 2.5 percent to direct funding to where it is needed most – classrooms.

USF is taking another approach to free up funds, however: Entire departments could be dismantled and restructured as the University strives to cut administrative costs by merging them. Departments on the chopping block are women’s studies and Africana studies. Also, the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC) may lose its autonomous status.

According to USF’s Budget Priorities Advisory Task Force report, these programs would be worth keeping in “good budget times,” but now is not one of those times.

The fact that these programs happen to represent groups of people who are primarily outside of the power structure in the United States must merely be a coincidence.

It is easy to view this move as a way for USF to trim programs that are unlikely to help the school reach elite status as a top-tier research university or become a member of the Association of American Universities.

What is really hurting USF’s perception of these departments are the standards by which they are being evaluated. Africana studies and women’s studies awarded eight and 11 undergraduate degrees last year, respectively. In a statistics-driven institution, that may seem paltry, but it is hardly an indicator of the effect these programs have on students.

USF’s savings in cutting Africana studies as a department and removing the major seems meager compared to the $55 million that needs to be cut. The report states that USF would save $115,371, plus the salary of “one non-tenure faculty member.” There was no estimate for women’s studies.

These programs are vital to education, and not just for the students who major or minor in them. A critical aspect of higher education is teaching students how to approach issues and solve problems through different avenues of thought. That is why creative writing majors are required to take math and science courses, and why engineers must study literature.

Lumping these programs together or cutting the degrees may save money, but may water down the courses or damage overall effectiveness as well. USF needs to ensure that these programs don’t fall by the wayside, not force them there.