The last few years have been frustrating for the Gator Nation. Even while independent audits show that UF’s budget condition continues to improve (1), President Bernie Machen has desperately tried to convince us that the University is in crisis due to budget cuts from the State Legislature in Tallahassee. Dr. Machen’s administration has used this excuse to unilaterally make all kinds of decisions regarding department “restructuring” and elimination, and layoffs, without any input from faculty, students, or other stakeholders. The claim that these changes have been implemented for budgetary reasons is dubious – in 2009, Dr. Machen stated that a budget crisis provides a “once in a generation” chance for to make changes to the university that wouldn’t fly under normal circumstances (2).
These attacks on academic personnel have stretched both the resources and the patience of faculty, staff, and students alike. But the era of the constant budget crisis is coming to an end. The budget cuts to the State University System passed this year by the Florida Legislature were only one-time cuts, and funding for K-12 education was actually increased. As the economy continues to improve, the 2012 elections should result in a State Legislature that is more favorable to higher education.
But unfortunately, it seems that Dr. Machen is bound and determined to continue on the wrong course. The magnitude of this year’s non-recurring budget cuts ($36 million for UF) was calculated according to each University’s Unrestricted Net Assets (the accounting phrase for “cash stuffed in a mattress,” of which UF had $111 million as of 30 June 2011. State Senators have stated as much publicly on multiple occasions, and the expressed intention of the Florida Board of Governors is that “our Universities will continue to tap their reserves year-round in order to save course offerings, retain faculty and account for enrollment growth” (3). Every University is complying except the University of Florida.
In the face of all evidence to the contrary, Dr. Machen has declared that he feels these are recurring budget cuts, and that therefore the University of Florida needs to make permanent changes. You may already be familiar with one of these proposed changes: virtually eliminating research in Computer Science by “restructuring” the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) department (4). At the Faculty Senate meeting on April 12, Provost Joe Glover commended Engineering Dean Cammy Abernathy for her “courage” in being the first Dean to release a detailed proposal. The implication was clear: the other Colleges must release budget proposals by April 30, and other equally radical and damaging schemes are sure to emerge. When they do emerge, we must be ready to act quickly. As soon as you hear about threats to your department, contact GAU immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will work with you to build the kind of resistance we’ve helped build with the SAVE CISE @ UF movement.
This is a huge, reckless, and unnecessary gamble, based on nothing more than what Dr. Machen and Dr. Glover feel that the State Legislature will do next year. If this gamble doesn’t pay off, the damage to UF will be permanent and extensive: the elimination of research programs makes UF less competitive, cheapens the value of students’ degrees, derails the careers of many promising scholars, and threatens the livelihood of dozens, if not hundreds of other UF employees.
But their political intuition has failed spectacularly twice in the last month alone: on March 22, the Board of Governors rejected the “Undergraduate Enhancement Fee,” and on April 20, Governor Rick Scott vetoed HB 5009, the bill that would have authorized the creation of GatorCare. Why should we trust their “feelings” about the Legislature’s intentions now? All we know is that the State Legislature cut University budgets this year according to each one’s ability to pay out of reserves. If anything, failing to spend the reserves this year would ensure that the State Legislature would cut budgets again next year!
UF can easily offset these cuts without instituting campus-wide layoffs and permanent restructuring. It is time to send a message to Dr. Machen and Dr. Glover that rolling the dice with UF’s future and the future of hundreds of its employees when the stakes are as high as they are, is wildly irresponsible. Join us as we demand that the University:
SAVE EVERY JOB, STOP EVERY CUT, AND SPEND THE RESERVES!
Best wishes, Graduate Assistants United
(4) For more information, see http://saveufcise.wordpress.com