Originally Published March 16, 2006
Ah, the spring semester of college. After a long break of family gatherings, sleeping in late and binge drinking, most students return to campus to find it in a relatively uneventful state, perhaps even a little dusty from the lack of inhabitants over the long winter’s fortnight.
Not so the beginning of spring semester 2006 at the University of Central Florida, where students in the College of Arts and Sciences came back to find their department divided into two smaller colleges, the result of a quick decision that excluded input from students and faculty and left many questions unanswered.
The decision by UCF provost Terry Hickey to divide the college illuminates larger issues, like the administration’s perceived lack of respect for the arts, for faculty and for open dialogue, and it has prompted charges of irresponsible budget management.
The UCF administration, currently consumed by prospects of a football stadium and a medical school, announced in October 2005 that the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) was looking at a projected $5 million budget deficit; that is, for the academic year, they had more commitments to salary and expenses than funding. Hickey and UCF president John Hitt publicly attributed the deficit to poor budget management on the part of CAS dean Kathryn Seidel. They called the deficit “a self-inflicted wound” in an Oct. 16 Orlando Sentinel article.
But instead of getting rid of Seidel, UCF administrators decided to divide the CAS into the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Sciences. Seidel originally planned to complete the remaining two and a half years of her contract by serving as dean of the new College of Arts and Humanities division. An interim dean, Peter Panousis, was appointed to the College of Sciences until a nationwide search could deliver a permanent dean.
Many faculty members think the split was a good idea. “We’re hoping it can be positive,” says Tom Krise, chair of the English Department. “There was a feeling that the college was a little too big. The division will let each new college be more of an advocate for the specific disciplines within the college.”
But some are criticizing administrators for moving forward without a clear picture of costs, which will be higher than if the college were kept whole. Not only will new administrative office space, staff and supplies be needed, but also there is a nationwide search for a new dean and an additional 100 new faculty members.
“This decision was predicated by a deficit, but when you add another layer of expense, it seems that you’ve added to the problem instead of solved it,” says Frank Stansberry, an instructor in advertising and public relations. “I’m not sure the solution matches the need.”
As the largest unit of the seventh-largest university in the nation, the CAS enrolled 14,000 students and generated half of the university’s student credit hours. The CAS also was responsible for the bulk of the school’s general education requirements, the prerequisite courses that all students must take.
Funding for the colleges within the university is based on a model that evaluates student credit-hour production – or the number of students taught in relation to the number of faculty. The provost determines funding based on this model and then allocates a lump sum to each college. College deans disperse the money among the various disciplines. It’s an unwieldy system, especially in light of the ballooning number of students at UCF.
Though the administration claimed that Seidel created a deficit for her college by not properly allocating the lump sum she received, even administrators point to the difficult position Seidel faced when dealing with enrollment growth and funding needs.
“She was forced to make decisions before the money was actually there,” says UCF spokesman Tom Evelyn. “Sometimes you have to hire faculty a full year prior to their start date.” (Neither Hickey nor Hitt responded to repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.)
In addition to extended hiring cycles, college deans deal with unclear growth funding. When UCF projects its enrollment for an academic year, it presents an estimate to the Florida Legislature based on a forecast number of new students. Sometimes UCF admits the students before knowing the amount of growth funding the Legislature will grant.
“The real problem lies in the Legislature – the great unknown,” says Stansberry. “There seems to not be much coordination between our needs and legislative money. In reality, it’s a guessing game how much the Legislature will grant.”
Most years it works out. Others it does not. In 2003-2004, the university budgeted for $14 million in growth funding that it did not receive, leaving the school with more students than it could adequately handle. The result was larger classes, fewer supplies and in some cases, suspended course offerings.
“If a student can’t get a class, then they have to add a year or two to their graduation,” says Rob Reedy, professor of ceramics. Thus the popular colloquial moniker for UCF: U Can’t Finish.
This year, the budget predicament of the CAS went beyond legislative funding uncertainties. For the CAS, enrollment growth was projected at 4.9 percent, and its general education class demands would be increased 6.7 percent. Last year, CAS enrollment increased by 6 percent, and it received a lump sum sufficient to pay for the increase. This year, it received a smaller percentage of the needed funding to cover the growth.
“As a management team, if you give the college less money than your commitments, you doom it to fail,” says Stansberry.
The administration’s stingy allotment of growth funding would be less curious if it weren’t for a surplus in the provost’s account from the previous academic year – almost $17 million available but not spent as of June 30, 2005. Some $12 million of the surplus was reallocated, but how much, if any, went the CAS remains unknown.
An additional $4 million was sent to a reserve account, used at university discretion for unforeseen emergencies such as hurricane repairs. That left nearly $1 million, labeled only as money to be used for “reconciliation.”
This is not the first time the CAS has operated at a deficit; in the two years preceding, it ran $2 million in the red. It’s also not the only college at UCF that is underfunded.
Six of UCF’s colleges, including the CAS, are underfunded, according to the university’s model, averaging 83 percent funding of operational expenses. Only two colleges are almost fully funded: Engineering and Computer Sciences, at 99 percent of the model, and Business Administration, at 112 percent.
(The overfunding in Business Administration may be attributed, in part, to inflated salaries. The average salary for starting faculty with a bachelor’s degree is $112,000, and many salaries in the college reach the 99th percentile among national salaries. “Part of the budget gap has to do with the fact that we are paying faculty like we’re a top-50 business school,” says Jim Gilkeson, associate professor of finance. “What are we buying for our students?”)
While some academic departments are weathering funding shortages, administrators got average raises of 9 percent last year. Hitt, the president, received a one-time $50,000 bonus on top of his $361,000 salary. Those sorts of numbers rankle some faculty.
“How can administrators afford themselves raises, while faculty have to teach more students than can fit into the classroom because of a budget crisis?” asks an assistant professor in humanities, who asked to remain anonymous because he has not yet received tenure.
Enrollment is also ballooning and has increased by more than 10,000 students in the past five years; some UCF officials project it to rise by another 10,000 in the next five.
Diminishing resources and increasing enrollment are problems facing universities nationwide, especially public ones. Federal and state monies continue to decline, and most private funding makes its way to high-profile projects first – things like football stadiums and technological research. But the problems are exacerbated at UCF, where the rate of enrollment and physical growth in the last 10 years is among the highest in the nation.
“Has enrollment growth been good for UCF?” says Gilkeson. “If you believe in large lectures, then it’s been great.”
Administrators see swelling enrollment as an issue of access. “Who wants to be the president that has to turn away students?” says Evelyn. “The president is committed to access to education.”
Not surprisingly, some faculty see another side of the issue.
“I am telling you from the trenches, the growth policy is out of control,” says a professor in the arts who did not want to be named. “I think it’s irresponsible and unethical that we’re letting students in without the money or faculty to provide them an education.”
The October Sentinel article contained sharp criticisms of the administration by Gilkeson. Shortly after it was printed, UCF president Hitt sent an e-mail message to the entire campus community and alumni – a practice typically used for major public announcements and emergencies –responding to and refuting some of Gilkeson’s comments.
“Professor Gilkeson (has) every right to oppose the proposed stadium and medical college,” wrote Hitt. He continued to assert that these budgets are separate from the academic budget, concluding that “the budget problems of (CAS) resulted from decisions made by its administration, not because of the proposed stadium.”
But Gilkeson didn’t back down.
“You have spent time and energy pursuing the football team/coach/stadium, traveling the country viewing stadiums, meeting with stadium donors,” he wrote in an Oct. 27 response to Hitt’s letter. “Have you spent the same amount of time working to correct the CAS budget? It does not seem so.”
Even if the decision to divide the colleges is financially prudent in the long run, the question remains as to why the provost executed the decision without public evaluation, in the middle of the academic year.
“The administration is making damaging, seats-of-their-pants decisions,” says Gilkeson.
Faculty say the administration is ignoring the concept of shared governance. A faculty senate resolution, approved by Hickey in March 2005, requests “that the university administration consult with the faculty senate when a determination is being considered to alter the university educational environment through the creation and administration of colleges.”
Further, when Seidel announced her resignation, Hickey did not initiate an open search-and-review process for her replacement, standard practice for any position at that level. Instead he appointed Jose Fernandez, associate dean of the CAS, to the position, without any faculty input.
“That is unheard of,” says Gilkeson.
But necessary, says UCF. “The provost has to act as expeditiously as possible in order to improve the situation,” says Evelyn. “He will provide general guidance, but a dean is needed to pull the solution into focus. It would not be fair to students to delay this decision any longer.”
Regardless of the confusion of the midyear division, both faculty and administration are hoping to resolve some of the issues. For instance, the administration has formed an enrollment-planning group to create a strategic plan for enrollment and funding. They are also working on long-term growth plans, including how to support that growth.
For faculty and students in the former CAS, the planning did not come soon enough. “There is a bit of disarray,” says David Brown, a music composition major and student senator. “No one is really sure what is going on, or what will happen next.”