University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft must know that appearances can be as important as reality. Surely, she knew this when she handed out hefty bonuses to four top staff members — after the university had slashed millions from the budget, frozen salaries and ordered big layoffs. Three of those staff members report directly to the president. During these hard economic times, everyone at USF should share the pain. Genshaft, along with her advisers, deserve all the criticism they are getting for this insensitive move.
The Tampa Tribune reported that Marshall Goodman, vice president and chief executive officer of USF Polytechnic, in Lakeland, earns $232,432 and received a $20,000 bonus; Cynthia Visot, Genshaft's chief of staff, earns $147,000 and received $11,500; and Les Miller, community relations director and student ombudsman, makes $90,000 and received $6,500. Chief technology officer Michael Pearce earns $175,000 and received $5,000.
How does the university justify the bonuses? University spokesman Michael Hoad told the Tribune: "Genshaft said no salary increases for the Cabinet. She didn't promise to freeze bonuses. Her promise has remained accurate." However, one Cabinet member, Stephen Klasko, vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Medicine, received a substantial raise, $56,000, bringing his total pay to $1.17 million for opening two new medical buildings and becoming CEO of the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute.
When word of the bonuses and Klasko's raise got out, faculty and staff were understandably angry and disappointed. After all, they had seen 450 staff and nontenured teaching jobs eliminated as a result of a $52 million cut in the budget since 2007. The faculty had recently negotiated a contract that awarded them a 2 percent raise and a tiny pool of merit pay. Faculty leaders and others say the size of the bonuses shows the university's willingness to reward an elite few while disregarding other employees who perform vital duties. Sherman Dorn, leader of the faculty union, said he is concerned that the bonuses would hurt morale. Bill McClelland, head of the union that represents staff members, said the bonuses were a slap in the face. Many of the union's members could qualify for food stamps.
The bonuses make Genshaft and her top advisers look insensitive to the economic pain widely shared by the USF faculty and staff. The closer the ties to the president, it appears, the less severe the pain.