University of South Florida administrators will begin dipping into the school's cash reserves to provide raises and cost-of-living increases for faculty and staff.
USF provost Ralph Wilcox announced the decision Friday at a faculty assembly, saying the move is the best approach to managing the "unprecedented magnitude of budget cuts" handed down to the state university system from Tallahassee.
"We do have limited cash reserves that have, over time, been set aside in part for rainy days," Wilcox said. "It doesn't take a provost to tell you that today, it's raining."
The drawdown must be executed judiciously, Wilcox cautioned, or the university could seriously jeopardize its financial well-being for years to come.
"It will demand a careful balance," he said.
Faculty union leader Sherman Dorn said he was pleased to hear the administration is willing to tap its reserves to preserve human resources.
"This is exactly what the union has been saying for months," Dorn said. "It's right to draw down that reserve in tough times."
Faculty members who gathered for the assembly, the first official meeting in USF's new Marshall Student Center, greeted the news with cautious optimism.
"I applaud the effort to build bridges with faculty who have in some cases felt alienated by the budget cuts," said Cornelis Boterbloem, a history professor and chairman of the faculty advisory council for the College of Arts and Sciences. "But words don't make the difference. Actions do."
USF is facing larger class sizes and diminished course offerings this fall as it struggles under the weight of a $35.6-million loss in state funding, compounded by an additional 4 percent reduction in spending. Administrators eliminated 450 staff members and nontenured faculty positions earlier this year as they dealt with faculty departures three times the rate of the previous year.
The university will make up for the shortfall by hiring part-time and adjunct instructors until it can launch a national and international search to replenish its ranks, Wilcox said Friday.
Additionally, it will use one-time funds to enhance technology in the classroom and to cover travel expenses for faculty and staff training while details are being worked out on how to allocate cash reserves for employee raises.
"For the next two years we can expect to draw upon those reserves to continue institutional growth and progress," Wilcox said. "We just cannot afford to stand still and await an economic recovery."
Donna Winchester can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8413.