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Faculty seeks answers for ‘new normal’

The university’s council of department chairs recently demanded answers in a letter to USF President Judy Genshaft, calling for more “transparency and full disclosure” about the rationale behind spending reductions which Genshaft has referred to as the “new normal” since July.
“The continuing budget cuts mandate will cause long-term harm to USF’s aspirations to remain a nationally pre-eminent public research university,” the letter signed as the Council of Chairs stated. “… (It’s) taking a significant toll on our colleagues, projecting an image of instability that is reducing confidence in the university and will undoubtedly have a negative impact on faculty retention and student success.”
Unanswered questions remained, they wrote, particularly as to why 75 percent of the cuts, or $9 million out of the $12 million identified to be cut from this year’s budget, would come from Academic Affairs and related entities, or the “primary research and tuition-generating units.”
Six days later, the Council received answers.
USF Provost Ralph Wilcox sent a letter to all department chairs with a breakdown of projected expenditures over the next two years, saying the “senior executive team” reached the decisions based on “strategic priorities and multiyear performance, the latter as it related to documented trends in student enrollment, degree productivity and funded research.”
“We will continue to reassess this distribution with a mind to further reducing targets for the tuition and research generating units to the extent possible, including determining whether a portion of the USF System’s $2.6 million award for performance-based funding might be credited against the reduction target,” he wrote. “… For programs that lack strategic alignment, demonstrate low degree productivity and or provide limited opportunities for graduates, we must continue our efforts toward termination.”
The projections stated that about $7.5 million, or about 3 percent of its 2011-12 Education and General (E&G) revenue expenditure budget would be cut from the Provost/Executive VP office by 2013-14; about $2.3 million, or 1 percent, from Academic Affairs, which is broken down into a 4 percent cut of academic colleges’ budgets, an 8 percent cut to USF World, a 22 percent cut to Informational Technology, an 88 percent cut to Student Affairs, a 47 percent increase in merit-based scholarships and a 5 percent increase in Academic Support.
Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Miller said Student Affairs had an approximate budget of $69 million. In fiscal year 2012, about $2.75 million came from E&G expenses, according to Wilcox’s letter and the department’s projected expenses for the 2014 fiscal year is about $326,000.
Miller said other sources of funding for Student Affairs include student-paid Activity and Service fees as well as auxiliary accounts, such as Housing, but he said money that comes in through those sources are dedicated to providing specific services and the funding sources aren’t as flexible as to where they can be used.
Last summer, he said, under the direction of former Vice President for Student Affairs Dee Siscoe, Student Affairs identified close to $3 million in expenses to be cut by shifting programs out of the department and leaving certain positions vacant. The initiative, he said, was something separate from the university’s overall decision to tighten spending. It was something Student Affairs started doing a year earlier.
“There was a trend of using cash (reserves) to cover things that weren’t funded,” Miller said. “We had to stop that.”
Other departments will also see changes in budgets, most significantly being the Office of Research, which will see a 39 percent increase in E&G expenses, largely invested in the I-4 corridor.
Wilcox said in the letter that the university was continuing to look for varied revenue sources, including through “expanded distance learning and cost recovery programs” and changing enrollment mix.
Faculty met with Wilcox and Genshaft on Oct. 2 in the Library’s fourth floor Special Collections area and addressed their concerns.
Genshaft later sent an email to faculty thanking them for their “candid” and “frank” feedback and commended the university for taking “a proactive stance in addressing historic changes to how public universities operate to ensure the long-term financial stability of the USF System and to best protect the USF community.”