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From Inside Higher Ed:

Divisive Semester at Florida

The fall semester at the University of Florida started with a lot of uncertainty, as reports of a growing deficit in its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences led to calls to eliminate dozens of faculty and graduate student slots in the humanities and mathematics. The semester is drawing to a close without much more clarity and with considerable rancor — the dean is leaving, the English department is in receivership, and administrators have admitted that, initially at least, they didn’t sufficiently involve professors in finding a way out of the college’s financial mess.

A score of graduate students approached President J. Bernard Machen at Friday’s board meeting to express concerns about a controversial five-year plan to lift the college out of debt, but were told, as The Gainesville Sun reported, that it will stay in place until a faculty-approved alternative is developed. Professors and graduate students filled the room for the meeting, students with posters protesting the recent happenings and faculty wearing stickers displaying their opposition, according to Nora Alter, a professor of German culture and film. Her department, Germanic and Slavic studies, also underwent a period of receivership in the spring and faces a reduction of TA-supported graduate spots from 10 to 0 by 2011 if the five-year plan to slash spending is enacted.

Under the plan — which would benefit the sciences but cut budgets for four humanities departments and mathematics — 54 faculty vacancies would be created by attrition, administrative staff would be cut by 14 and the college would probably be back in the black by 2008-9.

While many faculty members said they think the existing five-year plan is effectively dead, they see the recent events as indicative of an attempt to force changes in the profile of the University of Florida’s largest college. Some faculty wondered aloud why an institution that is unabashedly angling to crack the top 10 public universities would propose cuts to its humanities programs. They described an atmosphere of mistrust between arts and sciences professors and the administration. Several faculty members described a disregard for shared governance and an inability to even get their hands on budget numbers so they can effectively develop an alternative path forward.

Yet, the differences in faculty reactions, even within those departments targeted for cuts, are striking. While virtually everyone agrees that the development of the five-year plan without significant faculty input was inappropriate, some express faith that the plan was simply a misstep on the institution’s now more sure-footed path toward greater shared governance.

A new faculty financial advisory committee for the college has been established and the incoming interim dean, Joseph Glover, has already actively begun soliciting faculty input. Glover has pledged not only that he does not feel constrained by the unpopular five-year plan but that “everything is on the table” – leading some faculty to express confidence that a new, more palatable plan will emerge, with faculty input, to lift the college out of the red.

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The number of full-time faculty spots in English, for instance, would decrease from 59.5 to 51 by 2010-11, with graduate spots cut from 59 to 54. The Germanic and Slavic studies faculty count would drop from 20 to 14, and mathematics would lose 6.5 of 58.5 faculty positions and 10 of its 80 funded graduate slots. On the flip side, the sciences and several social sciences, including psychology, criminology, political science and communication, would see an infusion of resources. For instance, chemistry botany and zoology would each enjoy a handful of extra faculty positions and increases in graduate funding. And the number of funded graduate students would increase by 16 in chemistry, from 130 to 146.

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December 16, 2006 at 8:30 am

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