The University of Florida will use $10 million in federal stimulus dollars to hire 100 new professors and replenish its faculty ranks, which have shrunk during the past year thanks to tens of millions in budget cuts.
UF president Bernie Machen on Thursday told the faculty senate that professors hired in the coming year will help to offset the recent loss of 81 professors.
The stimulus money will serve as a bridge until higher undergraduate tuition rates that went into effect this week for Florida residents generate enough revenue to cover the new salaries.
Some colleges, such as the University of South Florida, have used stimulus money to stave off layoffs. Some — including USF, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida International University — are using it to hire faculty members, but none on so large a scale as UF.
"It's a crucial step to help move the university forward," Machen said.
UF, the state's flagship research institution, is hoping to reverse its recent "brain drain" by luring professors from states like California, where more dire budget situations afflict public colleges and universities.
"We face attrition every year due to retirement and normal turnover, but there is no question that we have had some departures because of our financial challenges," Machen said. "With other institutions struggling, we have a unique opportunity to hire excellent people — from both the California system and other systems."
UF is the only one of Florida's 11 state universities with membership in the Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of 62 top U.S. institutions. Just last week U.S. News and World Report released its annual "America's Best Colleges" guide, ranking the Gainesville school No. 15 among all national public universities. Last year UF was ranked No. 17.
But with budget cuts amounting to 20 percent of its state funding over the past three years, UF has struggled to stay on top. The ratio of students to tenured and tenure-track professors at UF is now 20-1. Machen said the ratio needs to be closer to 13-1 for UF to join the ranks of institutions like the University of Michigan or Berkeley.
Machen said one of his biggest priorities moving forward is finding a way to raise faculty and staff pay. "We must be able to manage that if we are going to maintain our status as one of the best universities in the world."
Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.