This deans' list shrinks to budget woes

Universities find it's tough to hire and keep administrators amid questions and battles.

Published September 3, 2007

The University of South Florida's College of Marine Science garnered national attention late last year when it announced its partnership with a Silicon Valley institution, yet budget woes are hindering the search for a dean to lead the celebrated college.

Down in Miami, Florida International University recently lost the top dean candidate for its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to the University of Nebraska, after the Midwestern institution guaranteed more resources.

"We were really excited about getting him," president Mitch Maidique said of David Manderscheid, a longtime math professor from Iowa.

"But he said, 'I don't think you have the resources for me to get the college where it needs to be.' I can't blame him, but it's sad," Maidique said. "We're just bleeding right now."

This is the bitter consequence of the state's billion-dollar economic downturn and the political tensions between education leaders and lawmakers.

The state university system faces cuts of between $100-million and $232-million when lawmakers meet for a special session this month, and control over tuition and other university governance powers is in legal limbo. The result: Universities like USF and FIU are finding it harder than ever to recruit and retain reputable scholars.

USF needs to fill two deans' posts. University of Florida officials are trying to fill three deans' jobs. Florida State University is looking at three deans' vacancies.

Meanwhile, Florida's public universities are losing some of their best faculty to better-paying state systems.

Maidique said he lost a half dozen faculty members last year to better-paying jobs outside Florida.

"And you don't lose the bad faculty or the mediocre faculty," he told lawmakers in Tallahassee last week. "You lose the really good faculty because they get offers from places like Michigan."

The average salary for a full professor at a public university in Florida is $98,907, according to a national survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In Michigan, the average is $114,536. In North Carolina, the average is $108,127.

Even Georgia pays its public university professors more: $99,412, on average.

"It is difficult to get them interested when they read national stories about the budget deficit, which they see might continue beyond this year," said USF provost Renu Khator. "And if you do get them interested, it's difficult to promise them anything right now because we don't have the resources."

University of North Florida president John Delaney said four faculty members left his Jacksonville institution in recent months "because the future here appeared so bleak."

Over time, university presidents say, such losses threaten to erode the quality of academic programs.

"You can't hire the best and brightest under these circumstances," said university system Chancellor Mark Rosenberg. "And it's tough to keep the best and the brightest."

Over the long haul, unfilled deans' positions and high faculty turnover can breed instability. Problems go unaddressed, and they deepen.

For example, there are plenty of problems to be addressed in UF's liberal arts and sciences college, the largest of 16 colleges at the Gainesville institution. But liberal arts has been without a permanent dean since Jan. 1, when Neil Sullivan resigned after a $4-million debt controversy.

UF provost Janie Fouke said she has great confidence in all of the interim deans and department chairs serving while she seeks permanent replacements.

"But a person in an interim position typically feels less empowered, so they don't feel comfortable making some of the tough decisions," she conceded. "And that means problems best remedied quickly can fester."

Money isn't the only problem affecting the state university system's image nationwide. Education politics have never been pretty in Florida. But lately, tensions between lawmakers and university leaders are at a new level.

The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 state universities, voted in July to sue the Legislature over tuition-setting powers. The suit is likely to drag on for months and already it's garnered headlines in academia must-reads like the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"If you're hiring a dean, they're pretty sophisticated," said FSU provost Larry Abele. "They have read the news. They know what's going on. Almost everyone we've talked to asks, 'What's the financial outlook? Are the disputes between the Legislature and the Board of Governors going to be resolved?'

"There's no doubt: All recruiting in Florida is going to be harder now."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or 813 226-3403.


Open seats

USF: Dean of libraries, dean of College of Marine Science

UF: Dean of journalism, dean of liberal arts and sciences, dean of public health and health professions

FIU: Dean of liberal arts and sciences

FSU: Dean of medicine, dean of communications, dean of social work