Machen seeks state money to grant faculty raises
Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
University of Florida President Bernie Machen says he hopes to tap into some of the $1.2 billion state surplus to give raises to faculty and staff this year and to build a new chemistry building.
In a letter emailed this week to Gators for Higher Education, a 7,400-member support group made up of alumni, faculty, staff, students and others, Machen outlined the university’s legislative priorities for this year.
“Our highest priority is securing the funds for raises for our excellent faculty and staff,” Machen said. “This is important in part to make up lost ground in rewarding employees for their performance — performance that remained at a high level during the prolonged economic downturn despite years without raises and added workloads due to attrition and hiring freezes.”
Machen also said restoring that lost income would “help ensure that we pay salaries that are more competitive with our peer universities nationally.” Having competitive salaries is key to attracting top-level faculty to help UF’s rise to top 10 status, he said.
UF is currently ranked 49th among all universities in the U.S., according to the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking, which came out last fall. It is ranked 18th among public universities.
Florida is ranked last among the 50 states in per-student spending, accounting for state funding and tuition, said the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. Because of legislative control, Florida also has the nation’s lowest college tuition rates among public university systems.
As a result, the state’s universities, including UF, have had to freeze or reduce freshman enrollment and cut back full-time tenured faculty positions through attrition, leaning more heavily on part-time faculty and graduate students to teach courses.
This year, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed spending $3.59 billion on the State University System, only $40 million more than last year’s amount. The House budget plan would give the university system $150 million in new money.
Scott and the Legislature are moving to eliminate or limit tuition increases.
After five years of budget slashing to higher education, the Legislature restored $300 million in higher education funding cuts and added $300 million in new money, but also put the university system on a performance-based funding program. Only the highest-ranked universities get the largesse of state government, which is good for UF and Florida State University but not so good for universities that don’t measure up to the performance criteria.
Scott’s budget for higher education includes $40 million in new money for performance bonuses — short of the $50 million requested by the Board of Governors.
UF benefited last year when it met all the criteria set by the Legislature to be a pre-eminent university. The Legislature established 12 academic and research criteria to receive a pre-eminence designation, including that freshmen have a GPA of 4.0 or better and SAT scores of 1,800 or better, and that the universities have an endowment of $500 million or more and research grants totaling $350 million or more.
UF and FSU will get $75 million each over five years for being the top two universities in the state. In addition, UF is receiving $35 million over the next five years to develop a fully online four-year bachelor’s degree program.
The Legislature also gave UF $15 million for a new chemistry building. Machen said UF needs an additional $15 million from the Legislature to build a state-of-the-art building, to include “cutting edge labs, spacious lecture rooms and dedicated offices for advising, tutoring, testing and more.”
Other priorities for 2014 include:
n Restoration of the Alec Courtelis Facilities Matching Program — matching private contributions with state funds for the construction of university buildings. UF has $28.2 million in private donations on the list awaiting a state match.
Machen said UF also is supporting legislation that would allow the children of workers in the country illegally who graduate from Florida high schools to pay in-state tuition.
“Many of these students have lived in Florida for many years, yet are required to pay out-of-state tuition, with the result that they don’t enroll, delay their educations, or incur heavy debts as they pursue the opportunity of a college education,” Machen said.
The Florida Senate Education Committee narrowly passed a tuition equity bill by a 5-4 vote on Tuesday.