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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Budget proposals released Friday aim to leave open faculty positions unfilled and lay off some staff while leaving tenure-track faculty and degree programs unscathed by budget cuts.

Smathers Libraries announced earlier last week it plans to deal with its $1.3 million budget cut in part by closing the journalism and music libraries and relocating their respective faculty and collections.

Other notable cuts include an $800,000 reduction in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ recurring renovation funds and distance education facilities upgrades and a $5.9 million overall cut to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Colleges are also using attrition to weather the cuts, meaning some faculty positions opening up this year due to retirement and other predictable factors will not be refilled.

One side effect of having fewer faculty teaching the same number of students is an increase in the size of some classes.

However, UF Provost Joe Glover said, the university doesn’t have a freeze on hiring new faculty. Deans will hire replacement faculty according to the needs of each college.

“Yes, they have to take a net cut of a certain number of dollars, but within the budgets they have, they need to manage the college,” he said of the college deans. “We still have to meet student demand.”

The College of Engineering’s budget proposal, highly anticipated by those who opposed a previous proposal containing heavy cuts to the Computer and Information Science and Engineering department, was mysteriously vague.

A plan released by College of Engineering Dean Cammy Abernathy in April called for all computer engineering degree programs to be moved from the Computer and Information Science and Engineering department to the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. CISE teaching assistants, research and graduate staff would be eliminated and half of the faculty could move to another department.

According to the proposal submitted Friday, the College of Engineering will eliminate seven staff positions and leave one faculty position to attrition. Glover said the staff cuts don’t include temporary employees, so the employment status of teaching assistants will be left up to the departments.

“Basically, there’s no details in [Abernathy’s] plan, and that’s very troubling,” said Ph.D. student Nuri Yeralan, 28, one of the leaders in the movement to save CISE. “We’re worried that that vagueness could be ominous, but we’re not sure yet.”

CISE professor Meera Sitharam said her department plans to dip into its reserves and find a way to generate new revenue to avoid cutting TAs.

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“The college will be giving us less money,” Sitharam said, “but we won’t see the effect of that cut in our department because we’ll use our reserves and we’ll generate extra revenue.”

Abernathy announced on May 1 each department in the College of Engineering would be cut by the same 2.9 percent.

However, Sitharam said, when faculty attrition is taken into account, the actual value of the cut is closer to 8 percent.

“If you factor all this in,” Sitharam said, “it does not turn out to be an across-the-board cut.”

Contact Erin Jester at ejester@alligator.org.

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