No tenured faculty layoff plans in sight despite budget cuts

To maintain reasonable student-to-faculty ratios after the university paused hiring processes across all three campuses, USF President Steven Currall said at the Board of Trustees meeting Friday that the university is exploring all available sources of funding as well as “optimizing” teaching assignments and staff responsibilities. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/MICROSOFT TEAMS

The Board of Trustees (BOT) held a Strategic Budget Realignment workshop Friday afternoon to present and discuss the $36.7 million, or 8.5%, target reduction plan for the 2021-22 fiscal year. As the university prepares to embrace the budget cuts, the risks and impacts of some decisions are becoming even more apparent as the year unfolds.

Across each budgetary unit — university support units, academic support units, academic colleges, USF Health and branch campuses — the university does not expect to lay off any permanent faculty members as it works toward meeting its $36.7 million budget cut target by July 1, according to USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.

While the university has no layoff plans, Wilcox said there will be a loss of vacant faculty positions, including vacancies created due to early retirement, as well as cuts in temporary visiting instructors and contingent faculty, which include part-time adjuncts and graduate teaching assistants.

This pause in hiring and loss of staff will impact USF’s student-to-faculty ratios across all three campuses, resulting in larger classes and higher instructional workloads for some faculty, according to USF President Steven Currall.

The current student-to-faculty ratio across all three campuses is 21-to-1. Over the last decade, USF’s average student-to-faculty ratio was 28-to-1, according to Wilcox. He said USF’s interim target is to get to 19-to-1 in the next few years.

“We have no intention of sliding backward,” he said. “We will protect the most research-active and research-intensive professors at the University of South Florida in all of our colleges. What I mean by ‘protect’ is to avoid loading additional students or loading additional class sections on those faculty members. 

“So the secret here is not to add to their already high levels of productivity, whether through instruction and student learning or research, but to explore those faculty members that perhaps are not as productive or faculty members who are hired in classifications, in particular instructors that have little or limited research expectations associated with their role. We need to make sure, for instance, that those instructors are being fully utilized through instructional delivery at the university.”

As a way to mitigate the risks of such actions, Currall said the university is exploring all available sources of funding as well as “optimizing” teaching assignments and staff responsibilities.

The university will see an 8.5% cut in its Education and General (E&G) budget. The E&G budget consists of state appropriations, including general, lottery and tuition revenues, according to Senior Vice President of Business and Financial Strategy David Lechner.

The 8.5% cut represents 60% of USF’s total E&G budget. Based on calculations, the university must implement a 5% overall cut of the E&G budget for this coming year, according to Lechner. However, Lechner said there wasn’t a 5% cut across the board.

“Now, we didn’t do 5% … we didn’t give that across the board,” said Lechner. “These are the targets by unit. 

“[The university support units] cuts that we have agreed to here in the first year is about $6.5 million. And you can see 7.2% of our total E&G budget. The reason that’s a little higher than that 5%, folks, is we had a president that got here in about August of 2019, and I had a little talk about budget, and he got out in front of it, he put his enthusiasm behind it and I communicated to my unit that we needed to be ready to take cuts. So, when COVID hit and all the rest of the state malaise, we were ready.”

Out of USF’s total recurring expenses of $56.9 million, approximately $30.8 million still needs to be covered by recurring sources of funding, according to Lechner. To cover those costs, BOT Chairman Jordan Zimmerman said the university can’t use one-time funding, such as stimulus packages like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to cover those expenses.

The university’s recurring expenses, however, will be taken care of during USF’s second phase. In regard to state funding, Zimmerman said he doubts the state will restore the university’s funding in 2022. 

The university support units’ recommended target for the 2021-22 fiscal year is $6.5 million, which accounts for 7.2% of the units’ total E&G budget. 

As a result of the cuts, there will be a reduction in service levels, personnel and operating funds as well as a reduction in the level of financial, research and compliance oversight, which will consequently decrease the separation of duties and postpone the planned strategic compliance upgrades. Most reductions are already in place, according to Lechner.

The cuts within the university support units will also reduce the capacity for financial, operational and state-required analytics, increase response times for technology support and system upgrades and reduce the capacity for facilities’ upkeep and maintenance.

“We’re gonna have some slowdowns, but we’re gonna continue to try to be responsive,” Lechner said. “We have led as innovators, providing technology tools and analysis that help us to analyze where we are, where we’re going and we’re gonna continue to do that.

“We don’t have [a] budget for deferred maintenance, so facilities [are] going to continue to be a challenge. It has been ever since PECO [Public Education Capital Outlay] went away. But that’s our risks that we have. We’ve made those cuts, we are happy to share. We know where those risks are and we will manage them.”

Academic support units, which encompass Academic Affairs, Decision Support, Graduate Studies, Innovative Education, Libraries, Provost’s Office, Student Success and USF World, will have a $4.9 million cut for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The target represents 6.1% of the unit’s total E&G budget, according to Wilcox.

Among the impacts of the cuts in academic support units, funding for admission and career preparation, as well as central funding for undergraduate and graduate students, will be moved to “other sources.” Students and faculty will also have delayed access to selected library periodicals as a result of the budget cuts.

Wilcox said the budget targets for academic support units will “necessitate moving some essential operations to nonstate funding sources.” Those funding sources, however, were not specified during the meeting.

Colleges across all three campuses will also be subject to budgetary cuts for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Each college submitted Dec. 18 individual plans according to their own target plans. Of the $36.7 million in cuts from state funding, $13.4 million will be taken from colleges.

As USF’s biggest college, the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) will have the biggest cut. The college’s recommended target for the 2022 fiscal year is $5.7 million, which is 5.9% of the college’s total E&G budget. The college will reduce non-salary operating costs, reorganize and reduce open staff positions, move research faculty to other funding sources and move some of the E&G research costs to F&A.

Besides reducing the number of visiting faculty, which will lead to larger class sections, the college might also suffer from a reduction in tuition revenue and faculty research productivity and a decline in student access for success as well as a higher dependency on contingency instructors to meet the students’ demands.

CAS’ target for the 2022 fiscal year is $286,384, which consists of 1.8% of the college’s total E&G budget. The college plans to take savings from the conversion of a 12- to nine-month appointment for the college’s former dean and through faculty retirement.

With a reduction in non-salary operating costs and the elimination of vacant positions, the College of Behavioral and Community Science is planning for a $951,070 budget cut for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The recommended budget cut target consists of 3.7% of the college’s total E&G budget.

Amid a decline in student enrollment, the College of Education (COE) was in the spotlight as the university proposed preliminary plans to eliminate some of its undergraduate programs and strengthen its graduate programs. In a letter to the USF community, Wilcox and the college’s interim dean Judy Ponticell emphasized how it will continue to offer a “narrower array” of undergraduate programs in higher demand to meet market demands.

Wilcox said the university will also accelerate the search for the COE’s next permanent dean as well as work alongside faculty to revise its undergraduate and graduate curriculum and strengthen the support for faculty research.

The COE’s budget reduction target for the 2022 fiscal year is $2.8 million, which makes up 14.7% of the college’s total E&G budget. While there won’t be any layoffs of permanent faculty, the university expects to reduce the number of graduate assistants and adjunct faculty.

As the COE currently has a student-to-faculty ratio of 11-to-1, Wilcox said the college has a greater efficiency to use state funds. Other colleges’ student-to-faculty ratio, including the Muma College of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Public Health, are three times higher than the COE, according to Wilcox.

Wilcox added the university is also proposing to move the Florida Center for Instructional Technology to Innovative Education, which will provide “some relief” to state funding as it would utilize non-E&G sources of funding.

Considering the high tuition generation, low E&G funding per degree and a high student-to-faculty ratio of 32-to-1 in fall 2020, the College of Engineering’s budget cut target for the fiscal year 2022 is $975,720, which consists of 2.6% of the college’s total E&G budget.

The cuts, however, will reduce non-salary operating costs, consequently reducing graduate student support, mentoring and tutoring of students within the college as well as community outreach and marketing. The college will also pause faculty hiring, delay lab renovations and reduce student access to summer school as a result of the budgetary cuts. 

Through the elimination of vacant faculty, administrative and staff positions, the College of Marine Science, located on the St. Pete campus, is expected to have a $312,572 budget cut for the 2022 fiscal year. The budget cut target makes up 4% of the college’s total E&G budget.

The cuts, however, will reduce the college’s research productivity, according to Wilcox.

For Wilcox, the college is of “high strategic importance to the University of South Florida, particularly in a consolidated context, where the college will serve as an anchor for an interdisciplinary Center of Oceanographic and Environmental Sciences in St. Petersburg.”

With access to philanthropic funds, the Judy Genshaft Honors College’s budget cut target for the 2022 fiscal year is $125,350, which is about 3.4% of the college’s total E&G budget. Wilcox said the college has the ability to move some of its expenses from the state budget to philanthropic funds through the USF Foundation.

The Muma College of Business, with a budget cut target of $1.7 million for the 2022 fiscal year, already has a high student-to-faculty ratio of 33-to-1 in fall 2020 due to the high demand for its programs. The reduction in adjunct faculty will consequently lead to an increase in class sizes as well as in instructional loads for continuing faculty within the college, according to Wilcox.

With the budget cuts target of $167,696 for the 2022 fiscal year, the Patel College of Global Sustainability might become USF’s first centrally privatized college, operating on the basis of tuition and endowment dividends, according to Wilcox.

Wilcox said the college will move faculty and other operating costs to philanthropic sources of funding, which would consequently provide relief state support.

USF Health, consisting of the College of Public Health, College of Nursing, Morsani College of Medicine and Taneja College of Pharmacy, has a recommended budget cut target of approximately $7 million, which makes up 8.5% of state appropriation funds.

While USF Health will not have any faculty layoffs, the plan predicts “some” staff layoffs and the elimination of vacant positions. The plan also projects a reduction in discretionary expenses, a shift of E&G expenses to other sources of funding and reduced reserves for the 2022 fiscal year.

USF Health also plans to expand and diversify its research portfolio, which may lead to an increase in revenues in the future.

As for the branch campuses, each submitted its individual targets for the 2022 fiscal year. The St. Pete campus has a budget cut target of $3.2 million while the Sarasota-Manatee campus has a target of $1.9 million.

The BOT is set to approve the budget cut recommendations Jan. 12, during its board meeting. 

Between May and June, the university will bring the 2023 fiscal year implementation plan and budget to the BOT. The board will then approve the strategic plan June 8.

The cuts will be effective July 1, the start of the 2022 fiscal year.