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Universities recoil at Senate budget fix

Lawmakers suggest making professors teach extra classes to offset a budget shortfall.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2001


Lawmakers suggest making professors teach extra classes to offset a budget shortfall.

Money for Florida universities is so tight this year that state senators are considering requiring hundreds of professors to teach an extra class.

The extra work would save taxpayers an estimated $43.7-million, but it would still leave the state's 10 public universities scrambling for money.

Even if one in 10 professors picks up another class -- the ratio proposed in the Senate's budget offering -- the university system will face a $70-million spending cut compared with last year.

The House, which has not included the requirement in its preliminary budget, is calling for a $40-million cut.

Faculty leaders hate the proposed work requirement, which the head of the state's faculty union called an example of the Republican leadership's "need for tyrannical control."

But it isn't the only part of the higher education budget eliciting angry yelps.

The Senate plan would not reimburse universities who enroll more students than projected. That could cost the schools a total of $40-million.

Officials at the University of South Florida, which enrolled an extra 722 students, are hoping lawmakers will consider extenuating circumstances.

The problem is the Bright Futures scholarship program, said Kathy Betancourt, USF's chief lobbyist.

Because it pays most or all of a student's tuition, the program has made it much harder to estimate how many students will actually enroll, Betancourt said. She didn't know how much USF stands to lose.

The spending cuts also are causing pain at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and Florida International University in Miami.

Last year, lawmakers awarded those institutions new law schools over the objection of the state Board of Regents, which said there were cheaper ways to increase the number of minority attorneys in Florida.

This year, lawmakers are telling the two universities they will have to live with about half the money they expected.

The university system requested $11.5-million for both law schools. The Senate has earmarked $5-million; the House has set aside $5.75-million.

FAMU President Frederick Humphries said if lawmakers do not approve the larger amount, the opening of the FAMU law school in Orlando, expected in 2002, would be pushed back at least a year.

Sen. Don Sullivan, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that considers education funding, said there simply is less money to work with in a slowing economy.

"They asked for the moon," said Sullivan, R-Largo. "In a tight budget year they're going to have to get along with what they were promised."

No element is more contentious, at least to faculty, than the Senate's proposal to increase the work loads of many professors.

Under collective bargaining agreements, university faculty are required, on average, to teach nine hours a semester. That works out to about three courses, said Rosie Webb Joels, president of the United Faculty of Florida.

But the proposal does not take into account a professor's other obligations, including research, publication and service, Joels said.

"This is just incredibly naive," she said.

Students also have reason to grumble, though their complaint is about the ever-rising costs of tuition.

Those who don't earn a Bright Futures scholarship are looking at an increase of up to 7.5 percent.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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