UF students, faculty rally against budget cuts
The University of Florida is trying to find ways to cut about $40 million out of its budget. It’s considering reductions and mergers in programs like Computer Science. But faculty, students and concerned citizens are pushing back against the cuts. WUFT’s Dina Lewis reports on the school’s “Save UF, Spend the Reserves Campaign".
Update: Shortly after the rally, University of Florida President Bernie Machen released this statement:
May 10, 2011
To: Faculty and Staff
From: President Bernie Machen
Re: 2011-12 Budget
Every college and administrative unit across campus has been engaged over the past few weeks in identifying $38.2 million in spending reductions necessary to meet our FY 2012-13 budget. After five years of cuts, we have lost almost 25 percent of University of Florida’s state support. Finding the necessary cost savings has been increasingly difficult each year. This year is the most challenging yet as we work to do more with less and make the cuts in such a way as to preserve the quality of education at the University of Florida.
The key to educational quality is our faculty. In the past, we have on occasion relied on across-the-board spending reductions distributed among all the colleges and their departments, as well as administrative units. If we tried this approach again this year, the result would be significant faculty layoffs in several colleges.
With a goal of maintaining educational quality, Dean Cammy Abernathy and Provost Joe Glover developed a plan for the College of Engineering that would have preserved our excellent teaching faculty.
As many of you know, the proposal has been met with overwhelming negative response, much of which I believe has been based on misunderstanding. Nonetheless, it is clear that the University of Florida must figure out a way to make it through these financially difficult times in a productive manner. I am optimistic we can do that.
This week, the chairmen of the departments of Computer and Information Science and Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering have come forward together with a framework of a new proposal that would help meet the college’s budget target. It also would address issues raised during recent discussions, namely, clarify and enhance degree offerings while preserving the research mission in both computer science and computer engineering, achieve efficiency in teaching and bring faculty workloads in line with other departments of the college.
“We are currently working on a plan for a joint organization of these two departments into a larger unit. I feel strongly that this is the best opportunity for the two departments moving forward,” said Gerhard Ritter, interim chair of CISE.
John Harris, chairman of the department of ECE, said he is encouraged by the long-term possibilities.
“I believe that successful implementation of this plan would be beneficial not only to the future of computer science but also to electrical and computer engineering,” Harris said.
Engineering Dean Abernathy has agreed to set aside the previously announced proposal as the department chairmen of CISE and ECE continue to flesh out details of a new proposal in consultation with students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners. The college has no plans to close any departments.
“I applaud the leadership and vision of Dr. Ritter and Dr. Harris and am dedicated to reaching a resolution as expeditiously as possible to ensure the best opportunities are before us for our college,” Abernathy said.
Dean Abernathy has worked tirelessly on this very difficult budget challenge, and I commend her for her dedicated efforts to find the best possible solution.
Some have suggested that the university use its “unrestricted assets” or “reserves” to cover the reductions. That is not a viable option for the University of Florida.
We spent nearly $30 million of reserves last year to avoid having to make difficult budget decisions. We were optimistic in an economic recovery that would stave off reductions this year. Unfortunately, we are facing even larger cuts now because we failed to make needed budget adjustments then.
At the same time, a severe backlog of facilities maintenance caused by the elimination of state support has the university on the precipice of crisis. We must maintain sufficient reserves to manage unexpected expenses associated with air conditioning system failures, roof leaks or other major outages that could put buildings out of commission and cost millions of dollars.
Additional budget reduction proposals are expected to be brought forth in other colleges in coming weeks. I know finding the necessary savings after years of budget cutting will be difficult.
I ask the faculty, students, and the administration of all colleges to work in partnership to identify the savings and keep the colleges on track in their quest for continued excellence in education and research.