In the midst of reports that the economics department has stopped accepting students to its Ph.D. program, some people are concerned UF might not be able to sustain its undergraduate economics degree.
John Kraft, dean of the Warrington College of Business Administration — which houses the economics department — said he has long-term plans to cut the economics faculty from its current 11 tenure-track professors to six.
He said based on current resources, six professors would be enough to teach undergraduate courses while still staying fiscally responsible. He said currently, the economics department is in the largest deficit position compared to the rest of the college, and every department is shrinking.
“To me, the greatest tragedy is for students who arrive here, and we don’t offer much in the way of undergraduate courses,” said retired UF economics professor David Denslow.
Twice, the department was offered a move from the business college to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and both times faculty voted against it, despite Kraft’s offer to support the transition for three years.
“They made a choice,” Kraft said. “Maybe they didn’t like the choices they have, but it was all that was available.”
Roger Blair, chairman of the economics department, said moving to CLAS isn’t the solution.
“Why would anyone suppose we’ll be better in arts and sciences?” he asked.
He said CLAS is not better off and doesn’t have money to fund Ph.D. programs.
“People who want to blame us for the situation would like to suggest money would fix things,” Blair said. “It’s not going to fix anything.”
But some suggest the faculty didn’t take the offer for personal reasons.
“The twist at the end is they were given the opportunity to leave and they didn’t. It boiled down to their own pocketbooks,” said Dave Williams, a UF economics alumnus.
A contributing factor to the financial issues facing the department is the switch to the Responsibility Centered Management budget system.
“Under that budget system, the revenue from credit hours generated from each department gets a kind of weight,” said Robert Lanzillotti, former dean of the college of business. “One of the ironies here is the economics department classes taught would generate more revenue as a (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) number than as a (Warrington College of Business Administration) number.”
Williams said Kraft’s decision might be motivated by his being passed up as dean years before he was awarded the position.
“I think Kraft has systematically destroyed the department,” said Williams.
Kraft said there is nothing personal about what he is doing.
Others say they believe him.
“I have thought in the past there may be some credibility, but as I think about it more carefully, I don’t think that’s it,” Denslow said.
There’s been concern the struggles of the economics department may impact UF’s climb to top 10 university status.
“There isn’t a top 10 university in the country that doesn’t have a viable economics department,” Lanzillotti said.
A version of this story ran on page 1 on 12/3/2013 under the headline "Changes in economics department worry some"
UF economics professor Mark Rush poses in his office in Matherly Hall.