June 22, 2008

Florida State: Bad Times Ahead

Looks like it's going to be a bad couple of years ahead at my undergraduate alma mater, Florida State University. FSU is cutting just about everything to cope with massive budget cuts. Everything from faculty to trash collection is being sliced:

Board of Trustees approves biannual budget
Coming years will bring loss of faculty, students and resources

Students returning to Florida State University in the fall will be coming back to larger classes, less availability of computer labs, less faculty teaching and more teaching assistants, graduate assistants and adjunct faculty teaching owing to a $32 million loss in state funding.

Returning faculty members face the prospect of no raises for a two-year period and more than 200 faculty and staff positions eliminated or not filled as well as the loss of more than 100 faculty positions that would have been created. Buildings will be cleaned less frequently, the grass will be mowed less often, trash collection will be curtailed and utilities will be reduced by 10 percent, lowering the utility bill by about $2.5 million...

"We are losing faculty that we normally would not have lost," [FSU President T.K.] Wetherell said. "One of the problems is the money. There's no doubt about that. We'll balance the budget, but a larger problem with our faculty in particular is a perception that nobody is committed to higher education. It's important that we send the message to our faculty (that they) are important..."

...Jobs related to FSU make up 21 percent of employment in the area, and local businesses will suffer from the enrollment reduction...

The meeting also touched on FSU's gains in increasing need-based aid to students. Wetherell said FSU will remain committed to the CARE program, which has helped the university achieve the highest minority graduation rate in the nation...
I can't tell from the article what remaining committed to the CARE (Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement) means. I worked as a tutor in that program during my last couple of years at FSU, teaching English, biology, chemistry and math to students on a one-to-one basis and conducting review sessions. It's a good program that showed results. As a group, chemistry students who took lessons at CARE during the last semester I was there beat the overall class exam average consistently, for example. I hope that being committed, in this case, means not cutting the program's budget as opposed to only cutting it a little bit and then giving it a pat on the back. At the time I taught there, we already had an insufficient number of both tutors and computers to really meet student needs.

I wonder, too, what "less access to computer labs" means. Are they closing labs? Cutting hours? Not replacing old computers? As things stood when I finished my undergraduate degree, it was already difficult at times to get access to a computer at one of the labs. I had a slight advantage in this respect as a biology student; the biology building had its own lab in which the computers could only be used by those with a biology department account. Still, that was often crowded. The main computer lab in Oglesby Union was often packed, too, and there were invariably a few machines out of commission at all times. Getting on a computer at the main library was often a mission of futility. I have a laptop now, but I didn't then. Having had it would have made my life much easier, but I wonder how many students are coming into Florida State from a disadvantaged background and can't afford a laptop.

One thing the article doesn't note is that teaching assistants in some departments aren't paid. That's the case with the history department as FSU (or at least it was when I was there, and I'd imagine it hasn't changed in light of all the budget cuts). The anthropology department, once a thriving center, is already being phased out. Much of the faculty has already transferred to other departments or left FSU entirely, and within a year or so the department will cease to exist entirely.

It sounds like it's going to be a bad time to be student, staff or faculty at FSU for the next couple of years. Perhaps the school can offer tuition reimbursements for students willing to pick up trash.

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