USF vice provost submits letter of resignation amid budget discussions

USF Vice Provost for Strategic and Budget Planning Graham Tobin, who led the process of creating USF’s 2013-18 five-year strategic plan, submitted a letter of resignation from his administrative post late last month, saying he “preferred not to be associated” with the direction the university is taking in implementing budget cuts that “hits at the heart of the mission of the university.” 

In early July, USF President Judy Genshaft sent a message out to faculty and staff saying the university had “reached a juncture” in which proactive steps needed to be taken to preserve the university’s financial stability. 

Though the past legislative season saw the restoration of about $45 million that the university had lost in cuts during the previous legislative season, Genshaft’s email said the university would attempt to increase the university’s cash reserve by 5 percent over the next year, place a hold on hiring for all vacant positions and “manage the use of carry-forward funds at the enterprise level while allowing our deans and division leaders to manage their priorities” in order to preserve the university’s AA2 Moody’s bond rating. An article published Wednesday in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a recent analysis from Moody’s projected an “unsustainable” trend for public universities as enrollment and tuition rates flattened while expenses continued to grow. 

In his resignation letter to Provost Ralph Wilcox, Tobin said the university’s decisions put him in an “untenable position.”

The current decision to announce the draconian budget cuts, including the freeze on all hires, the sweeping of carry-forward money, the disproportionate impact on academic programs and the intent to balance the budget in a single year, while at the same time curtailing the ability of the deans to manage their own units, is clearly not strategic,” he wrote. “Indeed, this plan hits at the heart of the mission of the university.”

According to an email sent from College of Education Dean Vasti Torres to all faculty and staff in the College of Education on July 15, an emergency meeting was called between the Provost and all college deans in which colleges were asked to make cuts. 

The basic issue is that declining enrollments within the College is catching up with the budget and therefore the amount allocated is reflective of the lower enrollments and the additional cuts everyone is being asked to make,” she said in the email. “What this means for the College is $2.65 million will be cut, which translates to 14.5 percent of the overall budget. Because the University is moving to a responsibility centered budgeting system, it is unlikely that the funding will ever be returned or increased in the future. This is a budget reality we all must embrace and consider as the College plans for the future.” 

USF Media and Public Affairs coordinator Adam Freeman said in an email at the time that minutes were not kept for that meeting as he said the meeting not fall under the category of Florida’s Open Meeting Laws. 

The Provost, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer declined requests for interviews on the budget in mid-July and early August because at the time there was “no additional information to share” as the university worked “toward the goals outlined in the President’s (early July) message to the USF community,” Freeman said in an email on Aug. 7. 

On Wednesday, the day the Tampa Bay Times, which first reported Tobin’s resignation, reportedly received a copy of Tobin’s resignation letter, Genshaft sent a second email to faculty and staff with a list of modified goals, including expanding the timeline of the restoration of cash reserves from one year to three, stating that all spending decisions “will be strictly guided by the goals of USF’s strategic plan” and that Research Initiative Account funding for “research-related expenditures that cannot be directly charged to a research project” will be made visible and available to faculty. 

As we come through the first phase of this adjustment to a “new normal”, I have listened to ideas and input from every corner of the system on how our plan affects USF’s academic, research and operational enterprises,” the email said. “I have appreciated your candor as our university seeks to create a talent retention fund to reward high-performing faculty and staff while also restoring the critical cash reserves depleted in years of state funding cuts.” 

Tobin could not be reached for comment at the time of publication as he was out of the office and Freeman said on Friday the university may be able to provide additional comment next week, as several people were out of the office at the time.