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USF department chairs ask for more details on budget



Some educators at the University of South Florida have asked for specifics when it comes to the school's complex budget constraints. And last week, they got some answers.

Administrators met with a group of department chairs at the USF library Oct. 2, hashing out details of the tight budget the university is facing. For a background on the financial picture at USF and public universities around the country, read this Times story from September.

The department chairs, known as the USF Council of Chairs, met with USF president Judy Genshaft and provost Ralph Wilcox for two hours, standing one-by-one to ask questions and voice concerns over spending cuts that could impact their units.

The university is working through what Genshaft has called a “new normal.” At USF, prolonged state cuts have totaled more than $120 million, including $50 million in a single year. From 2008 to 2011, the budget went into the red, and USF leaders turned to cash reserves to get by. In August, Genshaft said the school would replenish cash reserves over three years instead of one, taking time to find savings and revenues.

On Sept. 25, the Council of Chairs sent a letter to Genshaft, requesting a meeting. Read their full letter here.

“We appreciate the fact that you decided to slow the process so that cuts would be taken over three years," the chairs wrote. "However, there remain unanswered questions; if we as Chairs are to participate effectively in this process, we need to understand the full context for the 'new normal.'"

On Oct. 1, provost Ralph Wilcox replied with a three-page letter. Read his full letter here, along with a chart that breaks down spending patterns.

“It is now time for us to work together to restore the financial health of the university to previous levels,” Wilcox wrote.

He attempted to answer specific questions, explaining how the university’s senior executives arrived at a reduction goal of $12 million across campuses in the current fiscal year. Then, Wilcox invited the chairs to meet with him and Genshaft in person the following day.

Eric Eisenberg, dean of USF's College of Arts and Sciences, went to the meeting, which he said helped helped ease concerns. He said the group may likely meet with the president again soon.

"They still don’t have the precise answers, but they have a sense that the sky isn’t falling," Eisenberg said. "I think the provost’s letter really helped a lot in providing some clarity there, and the president sort of calmed things down. The story she’s trying to tell, which is a hard story to tell, is that if you’re in higher education, you have to have a pretty high tolerance for ambiguity. Every year the legislature does things a little differently and the economy is up in the air.”

After the meeting, Genshaft followed up with a note of her own, thanking department chairs for the “frank discussion” and “candid feedback.”

“As USF’s president for the past 13 years, I value the perspective offered from the faculty, chairs and deans as tough decisions about our financial practices and future are made,” she wrote. “None of these decisions are easy, and it is not always possible to anticipate all the potential repercussions of any one of the unpopular choices we must make."

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 5:04pm]


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