Conversations on budget plan expose concerns over equitable universitywide representation

During Wednesday’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting, senators brought concerns regarding misrepresentation of all campuses on the Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force, and Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Dwayne Smith discussed student and faculty complaints about course delivery formats. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/MICROSOFT TEAMS

Faculty Senate meetings at USF are typically busy with discussion, but the Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon was especially forthcoming as senators raised several concerns about USF’s Strategic Realignment Plan.

The committee met for the first time this semester to discuss a host of topics — the possibility of the university joining the Association of American Universities (AAU), and presentations from Provost Ralph Wilcox regarding enrollment numbers for the spring semester and preparations for the summer and fall — but apprehensions over budget realignment and the administrative processes surrounding it took center stage.

Chair of the Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force Charles Stanish and Vice Chair Sylvia Thomas were broached with members worried about the consideration of how faculty will be impacted by the process of the 8.5% cut to the university’s overall budget, which will result in a $13.4 million cut for each college. 

“Can I at least ask that the Task Force in its investigations pay close attention to what faculty on the ground have to say about their working conditions and their experience as people trying to accomplish their direct mission of education and research, quite aside from stratospheric aspirations for the institution as a whole,” said Faculty Sen. Richard Manning.

A sentiment that garnered the most attention in the discussion was the representation of the St. Pete campus on the Task Force, which was brought forth by Faculty Sen. David Rosengrant.

“My issue with the Task Force, and I know there’s disagreement among this, is that representing St. Petersburg and representing the campus there, we do not feel there is representation,” said Rosengrant.

“When 19 members are on that Task Force — one from the College of Marine Science [at St. Pete], 17 from Tampa and one from Sarasota-Manatee — what has in essence happened is that the voice of what makes St. Petersburg campus unique, what makes that history important to the future of USF is not there,” he said. “It’s not present.”

The Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force is made up of 19 members, with Mya Breitbart, professor of biological oceanography at the College of Marine Science, as the only member from the St. Pete campus. 

Rosengrant said the St. Pete campus is “completely left out and ignored,” to which administrative university officials, including USF President Steven Currall, did not hesitate to address.

Currall said he had “great confidence” in Breitbart’s ability to bring the perspective of the St. Pete campus to the Task Force.

“We worked very hard on the composition of this group, we tried to ensure that it was a manageable size, and 19 is a large group, but we think that it can still be managed,” said Currall. “And we’ve been deeply committed to ensuring that there are voices present on this Task Force that represent every element of the university.”

Stanish also clarified that the role of task force members would be to make decisions on behalf of the welfare of the entire university, and not just their home campuses. 

“I would just emphasize that this isn’t a parliament where every member of parliament has its own constituency. All 19 members have the entire university as their constituency, so one shouldn’t read into the composition that somehow St. Pete or any other unit on campus is left out,” said Stanish.

“[Currall] was quite explicit to us that this is the entire university and St. Pete is as much a part of the university as anybody else. And so we are not divvying up the budget or the spoils. This is not the way it is.”

Provost Ralph Wilcox also stepped into the discussion to corroborate Currall’s faith in the equitable representation of St. Pete at the Task Force’s table. While he understood Rosengrant’s concerns, he assured St. Pete would not be silenced when it came to the Task Force’s work. 

“I have every confidence that faculty, staff and students on the St. Petersburg campus will be provided ample voice in the process and certainly meaningful input into the deliberations,” said Wilcox.

More issues arose concerning university operations as the meeting went on, but took a different turn as Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Dwayne Smith had the virtual floor to address issues regarding instructors making last-minute switches in their course’s delivery format for the semester. 

“The university has started to receive reports from students that they enrolled for a class that was advertised as being a hybrid class, and when they’ve showed up, either when their syllabus was posted or actually showed up to the class they were informed they were being shifted to an online format,” said Smith.

Other faculty members expressed that they also had issues with the designated format for the course, with one professor even having on-campus locations attached to their courses when they were intended to be all online. 

USF administration also received reports from state agencies, including the governor’s office, according to Smith, with complaints from the parents of USF students regarding the issue. 

“We’re particularly sensitive to students who may have taken on the expense of being here on campus … because they wanted a part of the campus experience, at least have some face-to-face experience … and have found that they are once again faced with, based on what they were just told, an all-online format,” he said.

Professors and instructors are not permitted to make switches to their course delivery unless authorized by the dean of their college, according to Smith. During the discussion, it was not made clear whether or not there would be consequences for faculty who made changes to their course deliveries.  

Senior administration will be contacting deans and asking them to get in touch with their faculty to “assess the situation,” according to Smith, while keeping in mind that the in-person cancellations could be due to several reasons. 

Smith acknowledged that the discrepancy in course delivery format could be due to student mistakes or professors making the decision for “very good reasons,” or unknown authorizations made by deans. 

The most common course format changes seem to be from hybrid classes to an all-online format, according to Smith.

“This is not at all meant to be heavy-handed, but we made a commitment to students to provide them a certain modality, and then they show up and it’s not there, it’s bad academic business,” said Smith. 

As administration keeps an eye out for an unforeseen issue that’s come out of the pandemic, so will the Faculty Senate as the Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force convenes Friday to solidify the details of their approaches to the Strategic Budget Realignment Plan.  

“This is more in vision of the future,” said Stanish. “Look at our strengths, look at areas where we can improve, where do we want to be in three, five and 10 years, and what’s the most effective way to get there.”