January 19, 2008

Sad News from Florida State: Major Cuts Approved

Following up to this story from a couple of days ago, the proposed cuts have now become a reality. Florida State University faculty and staff are getting the axe in a major way as the university itself and the various colleges seek to trim millions from their budgets.

Jobs, programs get axed as FSU trims $30M

The Florida State University board of trustees approved a whopping $30 million in budget cuts Friday in response to the state's dismal financial climate where public institutions are being asked to cut spending for the second time this fiscal year.

Administrators told trustees that repeated cuts are beginning to erode the academic excellence they have tried to maintain...

Trustees' approval of a broad motion gave full authority to administrators to do whatever necessary to shave off the $30 million. A total of 218 jobs will be eliminated. Of those, about 40 are currently vacant. A hiring freeze that was implemented in October 2007 will continue. Travel restrictions will be mandated. Departments will be restructured with the hopes of reducing administrative costs.

And enrollment of out-of-state students, who pay the most in tuition, could be increased. Enrollment of other students will be reduced by as much as 1,000. Administrators also approved reopening collective bargaining agreement.

"Now, we're headed in the wrong direction," said Ralph Alvarez, FSU vice president for budget/planning and financial services. "It doesn't appear to be an end to the state's downward spiral."

FSU Provost Larry Abele said other impacts would include increasing classroom sizes. He said FSU and other state colleges share the student-to-faculty ratio of 31:1, which puts the Florida system last in the country.

"I don't see any indication the Legislature is willing to add revenue sources," Abele said. "The Legislature has created an almost impossible situation for the state of Florida."

What kind of impossible situation? The $30 million was suggested as a means to prepare for a cut to take place before this fiscal year ends. However, administrators also anticipate another 4-percent budget cut at the start of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1...

FSU's largest program, the College of Arts and Sciences, will cut $6.1 million. Social sciences and business programs plan to cut $1.44 million each. And, the university's largest department of finance and administration will decrease by $6.3 million.
And from another story:
...Employees have been asked to give up phones and light bulbs in their offices to cut costs after the October 2007 budget cuts.

"So many faculty are looking to leave, the joke is the last faculty member leaving should turn out the lights. But they've already taken the light bulbs out. So you can't turn out the lights," Phil Steinberg, associate professor of geography, said.

Associate English professor Erin Belieu said the talent drain and ultimately a "brain drain" on faculty creates an even bigger exodus.

Faculty said they are committed to giving the students a top-notch education. But, a chain reaction may have already started.

"Brain drain among faculty leads to a brain drain among students," Steinberg said. "There are a lot of multiplier affects from creating a situation that's not attractive for faculty to stay."
This is what failure looks like, folks. The state of Florida has failed the students of Florida and it has failed the faculty and employees at FSU. When they say that they're going to bring in more out-of-state students and effectively cut off 1,000 Floridian students, they're essentially admitting to this failure; the mission of Florida's public universities is (or was) primarily to provide for an affordable education for students in that state. Moreover, considering how many problems the school now faces, those 1,000 out-of-state students aren't likely to be the best and brightest. The top-notch students will go to top-notch schools that have abundant resources and won't need to shift responsibilities from the staff they lose onto graduate students. That's one item of fallout from all of this; professors and departments in a situation where the number of students per class is too high will have no choice but to rely more on whatever graduate students they now have. I have it on good authority, for instance, that there are no official teaching assistants in the History Department anymore. Graduate students are expected to volunteer to take on the workload without receiving any additional funding whatsoever. If I were among the nation's best history scholars, why would I choose to go to Florida State and face such a situation when I could go to almost any so many other schools where a teaching assistantship means that I don't have to pay tuition?

When I was considering where to go to graduate school, several of my professors in the biology department encouraged me to apply to FSU. These were people I considered top-notch educators and absolutely wonderful people who had done a tremendous job in giving me the knowledge I needed to advance. As bad as I felt about it, though, I decided not to apply because I could see the troubles coming more than a year before they actually hit the school. I knew that FSU would bear the brunt of the fallout from statewide budget cuts. I did apply to UF, but only as a last-ditch resort in case I was turned down everywhere else (which, thankfully, wasn't the case — I can't imagine that the University of Florida will fare much better than FSU in all of this). Seeing the way things are shaping up, I think I made the right choice. I wonder how much of that excellent faculty will be left by the time I've finished my dissertation here in Massachusetts. How many are willing to sit in a dark office without a phone, after all? I wouldn't be.

I'm saddened by what's happening to Florida State. As I've said elsewhere, I will always have an investment in that place, not only in the academic sense but in an emotional sense as well. Knowing that another round of cuts is coming in June makes it all the worse. I hope that those who choose to stay at FSU find a way to weather this storm and that those who choose to leave land in a better situation — hopefully in some state whose legislature sees higher education as an investment rather than as a luxury or burden.

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