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Monday, December 04, 2023

Budget cuts reshaping the freshman experience

He entered the scene as a man with plenty of options.

When Bernie Machen took the reins at UF in 2003, state dollars, new projects and fundraising flourished throughout the university.

The university's chance of achieving world-class renown was in the president's sight.

In the span of about five years, however, molding UF into a top 10 university has taken a backseat to Machen's new and more pressing goal: delivering students a quality education amid unprecedented state-funding shortfalls.

This fall, UF freshmen will enter a campus that has $47 million less than last year's budget. Eight faculty members and 68 staff employees have been laid off, and others have left by choice.

Machen said he avoided making cuts that had a direct impact on students, including areas such as course availability and campus life.

However, at least one freshman event, an annual pep rally called Gatorfest, was cut for financial and scholastic reasons.

Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, said she hopes to replace the rally, where students learned classic cheers and songs, with a "convocation" that will promote the "academic purpose" of being at UF.

The ceremony would involve more faculty than cheerleaders, and it would be planned for next fall at the earliest, Telles-Irvin said.

Other parts of UF's budget-cutting plan include reducing enrollment by 1,000 students annually for four years.

Enrollment has typically been around 52,000, but this year there will be one-third, or about 1,000, fewer transfer students on campus.

Many offerings in UF's sports and fitness program were also cut for this fall. Snorkeling and scuba diving courses are still available, but students will not be able to learn activities such as flag football, yoga, badminton, racquetball, Latin dance or basketball for class credit.

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Students will also have less language options this fall. To meet a 6 percent cut, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will not offer courses in Korean and Vietnamese languages, and doctoral programs in French, German and philosophy will not be allowed to admit students for three years starting with the 2009-2010 academic year.

And with a fuel bill anticipated to be about $8 million more than last year, Machen is looking for even more ways to cut costs. A four-day school week, a model used by many community colleges to cut costs, is not out of consideration, he said.

"We're going to open the year at full schedule," he said. "I think as the year rolls on, we're going to have to adapt."

As for cracking the top 10 of U.S. News & World Report's ranking of public universities, Machen said all he hopes is UF doesn't regress from its No. 17 ranking last year. UF has been weak in areas such as faculty resources and class sizes, he said.

Even though UF's growth has slowed, he is hopeful UF can chart itself back into prestigious territory.

"I still believe that we have the basics to be a world-class, top 10 university, but I can't do it unless I can figure out how to get more resources for the university," Machen said. "The faculty's in place. The students are in place. It's my responsibility to get the resources."

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