USF administrators reverse course: Some undergraduate programs will stay in the College of Education

The university said it’s still having conversations about the best way to move forward, but will not eliminate all undergraduate programs.
University leaders announced Friday that some undergraduate education programs will remain at USF.  [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
University leaders announced Friday that some undergraduate education programs will remain at USF. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] [ Times (2019) ]
Published Nov. 20, 2020|Updated Nov. 20, 2020

After meeting with many local school district leaders, University of South Florida administrators announced Friday they will preserve some undergraduate education programs in the College of Education.

The fate of the College has been in question after a proposal that would eliminate undergraduate education and transition the college to a graduate school was announced last month to faculty as part of the university’s drastic cost-cutting measures over the next two years.

The proposal received harsh criticism from students, faculty, staff, local school district leaders, elected officials and the university’s own board of trustees.

President Steve Currall, Provost Ralph Wilcox and interim dean of the College of Education Judith Ponticell released a statement Friday reiterating their commitment to teacher preparation after the meeting with school district superintendents, who had previously written an op-ed criticizing the idea.

“Let us reiterate that no final decisions have been made regarding the College of Education,” the statement said. “Meetings like the one today, and many others that Interim Dean Judith Ponticell continues to participate in with school superintendents, faculty, staff, students and community members, serve as critical opportunities to share ideas and listen to input as we reimagine our education programs during a period of significant budget challenges.”

The statement said that while the College would likely offer fewer undergraduate offerings than it currently does in light of its 63 percent decline in enrollment over the past decade, it would still offer some. The College currently houses nine undergraduate degree offerings, 15 majors, five minors and 18 concentrations.

The statement also said the university will continue to review the demand for students who graduate with undergraduate degrees in the K-12 system and make “informed and evidence-based decisions that align with the data.”

Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego, a vocal critic of the plan, said he was encouraged by the conversation with university leadership.

“We did voice a level of frustration that we need to work better together,” he said. “To their credit, they did listen.”

Grego said he hopes the university continues to work with the school districts to bridge an understanding of their needs.

He said he hopes undergraduate education programs are restructured to help prepare students to meet the needs of today. That means more content-specific training, more special education preparation and more early childhood education in areas of high poverty.

USF Faculty Senate President Tim Boaz said many faculty are still upset about the process.

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“This should have been where we started,” he said. “...I don’t think the faculty feel like they’ve been involved in the decision-making yet.”

Boaz said the Faculty Senate will be creating a committee to directly communicate with the Board of Trustees about how budget-related decisions are being handled.

Spencer Bazen, a junior majoring in elementary education, first heard the news through a friend’s Snapchat story while he was in a virtual class. He shared it in a group and eventually the professor stopped class to talk about it, he said. Everyone was shocked.

Bazen was planning a protest on the outskirts of campus Friday evening.

“Education is underappreciated,” he said. “We’re just trying to fight to save every element of the College of Education and continue to apply the pressure.”

Matt O’Brien, a doctoral student in the College, who was also organizing the protest said he was encouraged by the news but hopes that students have a seat at the table in decision-making going forward. He also wanted to ensure that faculty and graduate assistants will not be laid off or furloughed.

“We are thrilled to hear USF is backing down on eliminating the undergraduate program. However, the administration said they have made ‘no final decisions’ about the College of Education itself,” he said in an email statement. “The community and students do not know which specific undergraduate programs administration will eliminate. ... We need more than the administrations’ assurances; we need action.”

In its statement, the university reaffirmed its commitment to the community during budget reductions.

“As our university-wide process of strategic realignment moves forward, USF remains committed to our responsibility of meeting the needs of the surrounding communities while continuing to be responsible stewards of the university’s financial resources,” it said.