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USF president Steve Currall, top leaders will take pay cuts to trim budget

The action is part of an effort to cut millions over the next two years because of revenue losses from the pandemic.

The University of South Florida’s top leaders, including president Steve Currall, will collectively reduce their pay by $600,000 as part of an effort over the next two years to cut millions from the school’s budget, Currall announced Thursday.

The president, whose base salary is $575,000, will take a 15 percent pay cut.

While specifics have yet to be determined, the university said it will cut $36.7 million by June —including $13.4 million from colleges, $4.9 million from academic support, $6.9 million from USF Health, $6.5 million from university business support, $3.1 million from the USF St. Petersburg campus and $1.9 million from the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.

Adjustments totaling an additional $56.9 million will need to be made by the end of the 2022 fiscal year, either through more cutting or efforts to find new revenue sources, officials said.

Several faculty members said in interviews that they expected layoffs.

The cuts, driven by declining tax and lottery revenues during the coronavirus pandemic, have been discussed for some time but are coming into clearer focus as officials reach decisions on the details.

Over the summer, state officials announced that budgets at all of Florida’s public universities would be cut by at least 6 percent. They asked the schools to plan for cuts of 8.5 percent by the end of this fiscal year, and 10 percent by the end of the next.

In August, USF’s senior vice president for business and strategy David Lechner told the university’s board of trustees that “nothing was off the table” and that cuts would be made in line with the school’s strategic priorities.

In September, the university announced a freeze on hiring and raises and the university’s executive leadership met with staff in 40 departments.

“I think these are going to be pretty significant cuts,” said Tim Boaz, president of the Faculty Senate. “I think it’s likely there will be layoffs.”

Faculty members are anxious, said Art Shapiro, president of USF’s United Faculty of Florida chapter. “I hope there won’t be layoffs, but I presume there might be.”

Shapiro said he met with university leadership a few weeks ago and appreciated their efforts to keep the union informed. But the conversations didn’t reveal much detail, he said.

Gregory McColm, a mathematics professor and member of the union, said he did not expect to get any more information on the university budget until after the Nov. 3 election.

Faculty members, he said, “are sort of walking on eggs” right now. And, after more than 30 years at USF and many previous budget cuts, he said he’s uncertain what the next few months may bring.

“The reality is we have not faced a situation like this for a century,” McColm said. “The political situation is also increasingly toxic. ... My own feeling is that I don’t think that 8.5 percent (cut) is a viewing into a crystal ball, but a dust speck on the surface.”

At a Faculty Senate meeting Thursday afternoon, faculty members pressed administrators for further details on how the cuts would be absorbed. Though administrators said they had been “turning over every rock imaginable,” scrutinizing spreadsheets and talking to deans, they had few specifics to offer, but said more decisions would be made over the next two weeks.

“There will likely be some offices across the university as well as academic programs that don’t fare as well as others,” USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said.

He said many of the specifics would be determined largely by college deans, guided by overall university priorities, using criteria such as rankings, scholarly productivity and success of placement by degree.

“Our objective is not to maximize financial performance metrics," Currall told faculty members. “Our mission is to change the lives and educate young people, to discover new findings in research, to pursue our creative activities. We’re not a business, but we have to be fiscally responsible to achieve our academic mission.”

Lechner said the cuts could allow the university to later re-invest in more strategic ways “instead of spreading it around like peanut butter.” He later apologized for that analogy, as it appeared he was comparing beloved programs and people’s jobs to peanut butter.

But Barbara Hansen, a faculty member in the College of Medicine, encouraged that line of thinking.

“I think our deans need to be encouraged to be creative with this crisis and think not just of this two years, but of the next five years," she said. “I’m sorry, but there’s not a company in America that can’t take a 10 percent cut."

Currall said the university agrees and has sent that message to deans.

In a message to the USF community Thursday, the president aimed to ease fears, citing recent successes including the university’s consolidation and its rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

“Rising to meet a challenge is not new to USF,” he said.

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