Update on higher education budget cuts

03/10/08 Ryan Iacovacci
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Good Evening and welcome to the University Update, a new weekly segment providing a diverse perspective on the rather convoluted world of higher education here in the state of Florida and the Tampa Bay area.

Florida is currently dealing with a major budget deficit, and lawmakers plan to make drastic cuts soon. The 11 public universities have been requested to take a $350-million cut, calling into question the priority and quality of higher education.

Administrators at USF are taking measures to address the $56-million cut, of which $34-million is going to the largest budgetary entity, Academics Affairs. To put the magnitude of this issue into perspective, $34-million is 15 percent of the overall budget; it exceeds the total operating costs of academic affairs at USF.

WMNF spoke with Dr. Wayne Smith, vice provost at USF, about this budget crisis.

The 8-10 committees studying the budget are comprised of administrators, faculty and a few appointed students. The committees were assigned to assesses specific programs, departments and academic units at the university on a scale of 1-5 under four categories: centrality, quality, demand and viability.

And with the USF Budget Priority Task Force committees releasing its first report on academic departments just this past week, everyone at USF is on edge. With mostly fearful talk of cutting, there are attempts being made to make the budget more effective by consolidating different departments, redirecting, and overall trimming some of the so-called fat.

Last semester a Pappas Consultant Group report reviewed the overall infrastructure and operations at USF. In that report, the consultant criticized the technological and financial systems, calling them weak and frustrating for professors. And In the recent budget reports, Women Studies and African Studies received low scores and have sparked worry among faculty and students. Currently department chairs were given 10 days to respond to the reports and defend their departments.

On top of and partly due to these recent budget cuts, a power struggle has erupted in our state government over the control of our education system. As many Floridians are familiar with the shifting of education structures, this will be the third time in a decade we could experience a rapid change in Florida’s education system. Potentially on the ballot in November, we could see a constitutional amendment which is backed by Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucy, that will weaken the citizen voted Board of Governor’s control over higher education in the state. The bill plans to decrease the number of members to five appointed members, lessen each member's term limits and reduce the Board of Governors' powers. In its place, an elected education commissioner would be created as a part of the governors cabinet; that person would oversee public education in Florida.

Chancellor Rosenburg of the Board of Governors spoke with WMNF about the implications of this amendment and why he believes it to be a bad bill.

With no outline of degree qualifications in the amendment for the Education Commissioner, there is some worry within the Legislature.

The Board of Governors provides constitutional protection on education; it also provides student governments a seat on the Board, and thus a voice in decisions being made such as setting and increasing tuition.

Be sure to tune in next week for another installment of the University Update.

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