Provost hints at possible staff, course reduction during budget cuts

Though the university was able to mitigate the impact felt on campus of the deep budget cuts dealt to USF and the State University System since 2007, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox hinted at a more somber future in his annual Fall Faculty assembly — a future which could possibly include staff reductions, General Education and elective course reductions and the diversification of revenue streams as the university attempts to restore its cash reserves over the next three years.

Wilcox addressed faculty following the weeks in which letters sent from USF President Judy Genshaft to the USF community stating the university would be taking measures to tighten its budget to protect its financial bond ratings and a university administrator resigned, calling the way the cuts were to be implemented “draconian.”

Though Wilcox said USF was the only research institution to preserve all tenure and tenure-track positions during the cuts, he said, “today, we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift.”

“As USF continues to strengthen its financial base over the next three years, likely actions will include, but will not be limited to a mix of continued cost containment, new revenue generation and strategic re-investment initiatives across our community.

“We’ll continue to identify, freeze or eliminate inefficient, unessential and non-strategic centers, programs and positions at the university,” he said. “We’ll continue to explore greater administrative efficiencies through improved business processes and centralized support services. We will likely come to depend on fewer, more highly-skilled and more highly-paid staff members. We must optimize faculty instructional assignments and adjust the faculty mix, continue to grow student credit hours without increasing headcount, including through changing the enrollment mix. We will also be looking to reduce the array of general education and elective courses to improve efficiencies in delivery.”

Wilcox also said the university would be looking to generate additional revenues through “online, market-based and cost-recovery models” and “transform summer school.”

While Wilcox also spoke of USF’s accomplishments over the past year, he told faculty that the changing financial landscape for higher education was something that had been rapidly changing for years and that it was essential to tighten the budget to secure USF’s financial stability in the future.

“The story of American higher education has been once characterized in recent years as both turbulent and chaotic,” he said. “… I strongly support President Genshaft’s measured approach that will place the USF system on a more robust financial footing in the coming years.”

In early July, Genshaft sent a message to faculty and staff saying the university would need 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.”

On July 30, USF Vice Provost for Strategic and Budget Planning and the author of the university’s five-year strategic plan Graham Tobin submitted a letter of resignation in which he stated 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.”

Tobin, who said to The Oracle he intended to resign quietly and did not intend for the letter to turn into a “media spectacle,” said he felt across-the-board cuts and freezes were not strategic and that though he still had good feelings toward USF leadership, he could not hold his position knowing the way the cuts were to be implemented were not in line with the strategic plan.

Two weeks ago, Genshaft sent a second email out to faculty and staff, expanding the timeline for the restoration of cash reserves from one year to three, something Wilcox said was a decision made after hearing feedback from key stakeholders, including college deans.

Wilcox urged faculty to continue to share “out-of-the-box” thinking and ideas as the university moves into the future.

“As these tectonic shifts occur, our focus must remain on our academic quality assurance,” he said. “(Our decisions will be) framed around enhancing our greatest assets: human potential and intellectual talent.”