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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

As the old saying goes, he who has the gold makes the rules. In terms of a college campus, "the rules" translate into course offerings, class size, faculty hirings and compensation of administrators. We don't have much gold at UF these days, but at least what we do have is partially controlled by the people closest to its effects: the academics.

That's all going to change soon, and I'm breaking with the rest of the editorial board when I proclaim this change as a Bad Idea.

The highest-ranking academic administrator, the provost, is stepping down amid this unusual restructuring of a public university. I don't blame her.

I understand that UF has budget woes. But regardless of what Machen says, they stem from projected cuts of up to $50 million by Florida's state legislature, not from UF's mismanagement. Financial instability disrupts administration, but it's how the funds are allocated that really matters. I can't believe Tigert Hall has the best interests of students and faculty close to heart. Plus, it's hard to keep a straight face when Bernie says this change doesn't affect the ability of academics to manage their budgets.

Financial self-sufficiency doesn't help anyone if the university downplays its role to provide a public good: education. Many of the "products" of UF don't come with a dollar value attached. It's the job of the academics at UF to ensure that the intangible benefits of a university aren't overlooked, which is why they need a role in making the budget.

The bottom line is the flagship university of the state of Florida shouldn't be run like a business churning out degrees as cheaply as possible. A public university should be sheltered from market pressures and re-elections to create a haven for the a free exchange of ideas.

This decision to revamp UF's budget process is not the only option for improving UF's funding situation. I agree with the rest of the editorial board in that the state legislators have failed UF. But Florida voters already found a way to circumvent that conflict when they created an independent Board of Governors by constitutional amendment in 2002. The UF administration should protect its financial interests by launching an aggressive campaign to mobilize public opinion against subduing the Board of Governors, instead of keeping the academics from helping to run the university.

The power of the purse comes with the most tangible effects of any power in administration. Without a say in the budget process, UF academics will soon lose their voice when it comes to the long-term vision for the university.

And that's a calculation anyone should be able to make, no matter what college they are in.

Leigh Shapiro is an interdisciplinary studies in education policy junior and a member of the Alligator's editorial board.

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