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Monday, March 04, 2024

Over the past couple of weeks, we have dedicated copious editorial real estate to defending President Bernie Machen's proposed $47 million budget cuts as a necessary response to the Florida Legislature's abysmal failure to fully fund the state's university system. It now appears that we have been duped.

A recently released report commissioned by the United Faculty of Florida suggests UF has plenty of cash on hand to prevent (or at least postpone) faculty and staff layoffs, as well as degree program termination or enrollment freezes.

According to the report, UF had an astounding $131 million of unspent, unrestricted funds at the conclusion of the 2007 fiscal year. Furthermore, the report indicates that UF's reserve funding has not dropped below $81 million in the past five years, beginning with the 2003 fiscal year. These unrestricted funds are legally available for use toward operating costs, such as faculty and staff salaries, and other expenses. The administration's reasoning for failing to use its pecuniary surplus in these areas is at best disappointing and at worst a disingenuous and duplicitous power play.

The administration contends that most of the money - about $85 million - has been set aside for UF's sustainability programs and for new equipment, such as computers, while the remaining $45 million is being saved in case of an emergency, such as a hurricane. The powers that be insist the residual funds cannot be spent on saving jobs or degree programs because doing so would amount to a one-time fix for a long-term problem. This lackluster argument flies in the face of UF's financial figures for the past five years.

What's more, the administration has mounted the hallow and nebulous defense that the $45 million reserve is the minimum amount requisite to maintain "the best business practices."

We're sorry, we must not have gotten the memo that says running UF like a business - that is, turning what amounts to a profit every year for the past five years - is the best way to promote an environment conducive to higher education. While it is not lost on us that UF's multibillion-dollar budget and several thousand employees make adopting a business-like disposition towards the operations management of the university necessary, we roundly reject the assertion that this fact requires the administration to embrace the empty ethos of corporate America.

At UF, the bottom line is not profits, it is quality of education, and the shareholders are not the Board of Trustees, they are the students and faculty.

The similarities between the purportedly imperative budget cuts now on the verge of realization and budgeting tightening proposals of times past raise serious questions about the veracity of the administration's claims. Is it possible the suits at Tigert Hall are exploiting the state funding crisis as cover to make long desired changes, changes that under normal circumstances were too controversial to implement? We can't know for certain.

What we do know is that transparency and shared-governance has not been the modus operandi of the administration during this painful budget-cutting process.

While we value the sentiment of saving for a rainy day, it is incomprehensible to us that Machen and the UF Administration could possibly be oblivious to the financial maelstrom, tantamount to a torrential downpour, that our university is suffering through at present.

It is in these tough times that we need principled, prescient and perspicacious leadership. Up to now, those entrusted with the immense responsibility of providing our university with such leadership have failed us on all counts.

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