TAMPA — University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft told trustees Wednesday that service reductions related to budget cuts such as shortened library hours that sparked a student protest last week are “the new normal” at USF.
Her remarks came as students planned to continue what they called a “sit-out” at the main library on the Tampa campus tonight in an effort to restore the round-the-clock hours.
USF and other universities are scrambling to restore reserve funds that they tapped as the state Legislature cut funding to higher education during the recession. In 2012 alone, lawmakers cut $300 million from state universities, with USF taking a $40 million hit.
“One thing I want to spend a little time on is what we're calling the new normal,” Genshaft said at Wednesday's regular meeting of USF's Board of Trustees. “We have been working through four, five, even six years of cuts, but we have to change the way we do business. We're going to need to look very carefully at all of our finances, how we're spending our money, and make sure that we're efficient and as focused on our mission as possible.”
Although USF was able to maintain faculty levels during the down times, its rainy day fund withered. The university had stashed $216 million in 2011, when federal stimulus money was rolling in, but the figure is down to $125 million.
That could affect USF's top-notch bond ratings, which would hamper its ability to borrow money for future projects.
So Genshaft has outlined a plan to hold on to as much as possible of the university's unallocated money that isn't dedicated to a specific purpose.
Genshaft has put a hold on new hires, and professors will likely teach more and travel less. The university is dialing back some utilities.
Closing the library at midnight will save the university about $130,000 during the school year, administrators said.
Genshaft said the university is “absolutely committed” to student success, but protesters said overnight access to the library is critical to that mission. Larry Roop, a first-year nursing student who was one of the organizers of the student action, said protesters will hand-write letters to Genshaft and deliver them to her office.
“Hopefully, that will get more attention and that will change something,” he said. “She'll have a visual when she sees the letters on her desk.”
USF's student government released survey results this week that indicated 83 percent of students had visited the library between midnight and 7:30 a.m. Ninety-five percent said they think extended library hours are essential to student success.
Administrators have tried to get USF's student government to contribute money to enable the extended hours. Students pay an activities and services fee along with their tuition that goes into a fund controlled by student government. Student body president Will Warmke said Wednesday his group and the administration has a “major disagreement” over the legality of using the student fees for academic purposes.
The next library demonstration is set for 11:45 p.m. tonight, with many students planning to remain until the 7:30 a.m. Friday reopening.
“If there's a good side to this, it's not urgent right now,” said Thomas Miller, USF's interim vice president for student affairs. “As we get closer to midterms (exams) it's going to be more important, so we're hoping for a solution soon.”