EDITORIAL: Realignment plan a positive, albeit hazy, option

In an effort to trim spending, Provost Ralph Wilcox unveiled plans Thursday for a widespread structural realignment that will go into effect at the beginning of July.

Under the plan, the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) will include the School of Architecture and receive a new name; a new college will be created to include selected professional programs, such as the Department of Criminology and various mental health programs; and the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) will be divided into three schools: Humanities, Sciences, and Behavioral and Social Sciences.

The announcement comes after months of speculation about how (and where) USF was going to absorb the blow of major statewide budget cuts. With an impeding $35 million to shave, this plan is a welcome alternative to the realignments previously proposed by the administration.

While the plan looks good on paper, how it will play out is still confusing.

Unlike prior restructuring proposals, this plan retains all autonomous units – schools, departments and institutes – as well as academic programs. Although the new tri-school structure will affect the administration to which the units within each school report, this plan allows the units to retain their decision-making abilities by maintaining unit autonomy, which previously suggested realignments (such as folding units into single departments) would not have done.

The plan could also spare USF faculty and students from painful decisions with which other Florida universities are currently struggling. On June 10, Florida State University announced that it is cutting 250 staff and faculty positions and reducing enrollment by 2,000, and in May the University of Florida announced it would cut 138 positions, reduce enrollment by 4,000, cut research and eliminate academic departments and degree programs.

Though the deans of CVPA and FMHI said the realignment will likely affect only administrators and go unnoticed by students and staff, Wilcox stated in an e-mail to CAS staff that “I recognize that these organizational changes will create some challenges and issues for faculty members, staff and students.” This brand of contradictory, all-embracing explanation only makes the plan and its effects on students and staff more hazy.

Additionally, how much the realignment – which essentially amounts to cutting a few administrative positions – will actually save the University remains to be seen, as USF will not know until next month how big budget cuts will be.

USF has already reduced course offerings, increased class sizes, reduced advising services, frozen hiring and cut student exchange programs in response to budget cuts. If this realignment does not save enough to accommodate the cuts, USF may be forced to deal with the same difficult decisions as other universities: Will services be further cut and faculty numbers decreased? Will USF revert to previous realignment plans involving department merging and dismantling?

While the CAS realignment plan is much better in comparison to prior restructuring proposals, it may ultimately be a short-term, even futile move in the effort to keep USF afloat amid budget cuts.