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Committee recommends major cuts

Four programs up for deletion

Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 21:07

meeting

Ashley Inguanta

The Educational Programs Committee voted Monday to recommend four academic programs for deletion in a meeting that included roughly two hours of public comments.

Committee chairman Rick Walsh favored the deletions instead of an across-the-board cut that would affect the entire university, but he also challenged the board to think about what will happen should the cuts need to continue.

"The numbers we're looking at assume more additional budget cuts," Walsh said.  "There's very little margin of error here … I'm concerned we haven't gone far enough."

More than 160 people attended the meeting in support of the endangered programs: cardiopulmonary sciences in the College of Health and Public Affairs, radiologic sciences in the College of Health and Public Affairs, engineering technology in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and management information systems in the College of Business Administration.

The deletions would affect 37 employees and about 1,025 students.

Actuarial sciences and statistics were represented at the meeting despite being spared from deletion. 

Provost Terry Hickey said that statistics will not be recommended for deletion "for now," but actuarial sciences will be recommended for suspension due to the inability to hire the faculty and retain the faculty to offer the program.

During the meeting, Hickey discussed the five factors influencing the board's decision of which programs to eliminate: centrality, quality, demand, comparative advantage and cost.

"Can you imagine UCF existing without this program?" Hickey said.

Telishia Terry, a UCF alumna who studies respiratory care at Valencia Community College, was among the 34 speakers.

"Can we imagine UCF without this program?" Terry said. "I have one question for you: Can you imagine your life without air?"

The programs' advocates expressed disappointment over the meeting's outcome, though Terry had a stronger word for it.

"Betrayed is more the word I'm looking for, because the Board of Trustees is entrusted with the well-being of the students' educational future," Terry said.

Senior Megan McMurran, a cardiopulmonary sciences major, also felt discouraged by the committee's vote.

"I think we all feel like we've been punched in the stomach," McMurran said.  "We all feel like nobody listened to us at all."

Out of the nine committee members present and the three on conference call, SGA President Brian Peterson had the only dissenting vote.

"I do not disagree with my fellow trustees on what has happened thus far," Peterson said. 

"However, in the spirit of higher education, I do not feel that program eliminations are the best course of action to be taken yet."

A common complaint voiced by the public focused on the millions that UCF spends on non-academic programs and projects such as athletics and campus beautification, as well as extra salaries.

According to a report from the United Faculty of Florida, UCF's administration has grown at three times the rate of its faculty in the past 10 years.

"When a faculty member is added to the department, we don't add another department chair, plus another associate dean, plus another vice president," management information systems speaker Shelley Park said.

President John Hitt said that according to data from the state system, the administrative overhead at UCF is the lowest in the state.  "That speaks to the priorities we've pursued in the 17 years I've been president," Hitt said.

A UFF fact sheet stated that UCF loaned $8.7 million to athletics, spent more than $2 million on rehiring retirees with full benefits and had unrestricted net assets of more than $140 million.

The athletics loan came out of the auxiliary reserves, according to Hitt, and it is being repaid.

"I don't think it would be wise to try to finance ongoing operations with grants from the auxiliary reserves," Hitt said.

Hickey said the $140 million in net assets were actually in the restricted reserves, which the school could not spend, and UCF was among the last of state universities to get to the point of program eliminations.

"The [cuts] that we're talking about today … I know it's not modest to the people being impacted — I do feel for you — but it's modest relative to the numbers that have come out of some other institutions," Hickey said.

The fact sheet also claimed that the administration likely violated Florida Sunshine Laws by not consulting with faculty and students before arriving at its decision, but Hitt said he preferred the faculty not direct their anger toward each other.

"It's a hell of a lot better that you be mad at Terry Hickey and John Hitt than be mad at one another for suggesting that your programs be cut," Hitt said. "You want to see something that could really be terrible to faculty morale? Let faculty colleagues be suggesting that one another's programs be eliminated — that'll do it."

Many asked the committee to "reprioritize" and seek alternatives.

"Don't be a rubber stamp," actuarial science representative Kathryn Seidel said.  "Reject these proposals, demand a plan for the administration that proposes administrative cuts and better priorities."

Hickey estimated that additional state cuts might see UCF's budget reduced by more than 40 percent.

"If we get any further budget reductions, I suspect we're going to have to look at additional program closures or restructuring designed to get money out of the budget and increase productivity and efficiency," Hickey said.

Hitt encouraged the board to lead an effort to restructure the administrative and academic units in order to save money.

The final vote will take place at the Board of Trustees' July 23 meeting.

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