Departing professor: Cuts have 'massacred' UF psychology department


Clive Wynne, a former professor in the University of Florida's psychology department who studies canine behaviors and relationships, is shown with his dog Xephos in this Dec. 27, 2012 file photo.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.

Before Clive Wynne packed up his office belongings for his move to Tempe, Ariz., the former University of Florida professor sent an impassioned four-page letter to Tigert Hall decrying the "massacre" of the Department of Psychology.

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Clive Wynne, a former professor in the University of Florida's psychology department who studies canine behaviors and relationships, is shown with his dog Xephos in this Dec. 27, 2012 file photo.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun

Wynne, a psychology professor who accepted a position at Arizona State University, says he enjoyed his 11 years at UF and the relationships he forged with his colleagues, crediting his time here with reviving his career after an unhappy experience in his first faculty job at a different university.

"However, during that time, the Department of Psychology has not just been decimated, it has been massacred," Wynne wrote.

His letter outlined several changes since his arrival more than a decade ago:

Faculty has been cut in half from 48 when he arrived.

Outside research funding has dropped from around $7 million 10 years ago to around $700,000 in 2012.

Mid-level undergraduate class size has grown from around 30 students to around 150 today.

The department's ranking by the National Research Council has slipped from the top 50 to no national ranking, and is only mid-ranked in the state.

Wynne addressed his letter to President Bernie Machen, Provost Joe Glover and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Paul D'Anieri. He said he wrote the letter "to draw attention to the problem."

The administration had not responded to his letter as of late Wednesday.

Reached by phone Tuesday, D'Anieri said the decline in faculty members is a direct result of funding cuts.

"The Department of Psychology is not unique in that respect, and has not been singled out," D'Anieri said. "We've put more positions back in psychology, hiring at a time when we are not hiring new positions in other departments."

D'Anieri said the ability to hire is limited. "We made a decision as a community in times of budget cuts that we weren't going to fire people, lay people off and close units," he said. "If you deal with budget cuts that way, you are not going to replace people who leave."

The good news is that the college hasn't fired anyone, D'Anieri said. But the bad news is that student enrollment has not declined at the rate of faculty attrition.

And the new faculty positions are not keeping pace with the departing faculty. Psychology Chairman Neil Rowland acknowledged that the dean has given him funding to create new faculty lines, but not enough to replace the ones who left.

"Despite that, we are losing two to three and hiring one," he said. "It's just a big drain, which we haven't been able to keep up with."

Wynne said he couldn't see how UF could achieve top 10 status as a university if one of its most popular departments isn't even in the top 50. Also, he said, psychology is central to many other social, medical and scientific issues.

How the most popular major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — and one of the three most popular majors at UF — could have lost so much support over the years is a mystery, Wynne said.

"Even as I watched the demise of the psychology department, new departments have been built up around it," he said. "Even as psychology and other departments were cut, some departments have been favored with multiple new faculty lines every year."

According to data kept by the UF Office of Institutional Planning and Research, psychology is the most popular major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with 1,585 students enrolled in 2012. The political science-international relations program is the second most popular program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with 981 students, followed by English with 774 students and Anthropology with 723.

Biology, a major offered collaboratively between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, had 1,799 students enrolled.

The only major more popular at UF was mechanical engineering, with 1,591 students listing it as a major in 2012.

College enrollment declined about 10 percent overall, while the number of liberal arts professors dropped about 18.5 percent — from 570 in 2002 to 481 in 2012.

The university had to deal with budget cuts over the past five years, when state revenue plummeted and Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature cut hundreds of millions out of the public university system. UF alone lost $250 million during that period, using 15 percent tuition increases several years in a row to try to close the gap.

Colleges saved money by combining programs and not hiring new faculty when someone retired or moved on.

The result is, as Wynne stated in his letter, that most faculty are teaching sections of foundation-level courses with 150 students, and fewer faculty are available to compete for research grants, Rowland said.

The declining enrollment in most liberal arts programs could be attributed to two things, Rowland said: more students opting for business degrees, and more freshmen coming from high school with International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement credit hours.

The average UF freshman comes in with close to 30 credit hours, D'Anieri said, "essentially a full year, and that's a full year of revenue we don't get. That's great for students but not good for our bottom line."

The money each college receives is based on a responsibility-centered management budgeting system, where revenues such as student credit hours and expenses such as space used determine what each college receives each year.

Because it remains such a popular program, the psychology department is generating revenue for the College of Liberal Arts. But the tuition money it generates gets distributed throughout the college and doesn't go directly to the psychology department.

"If we did that, we would have to close some departments and lay off professors," D'Anieri said. "Because psychology has such a high enrollment, it actually helps us with that model."

In other words, the popular psych department helps to subsidize the other departments in the college. And that helps democratize the university's course offerings.

"We charge every student the same tuition, but depending on their major it doesn't cost the same to educate them," D'Anieri said. "Our commitment as a university is that if you come here as an undergraduate it doesn't matter what you study, or have to worry about choosing a course of study based on what it costs."

D'Anieri said he understands how each department could see things as unfair from their perspective, but from his vantage point, sacrifices have been made across the college.

"These are tough times," he said. "It looks like we're finally turning the corner, and we are keeping our fingers crossed."

The college is developing a strategy for that new money, he said, and the psychology department will figure prominently in that plan.

"We are working on a hiring plan for the coming year," D'Anieri said. "We are very cognizant of where the student demand is, where the potential is for important research to be done, and so we'll invest accordingly."

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