Delaney plans to minimize budget cuts


In October, President John Delaney assumed the position of Interim Chancellor of the Florida Board of Governors, the group of university presidents responsible for the strategic planning of State University System resources.

In that role, Delaney was able to get an inside view of the legislative processes in Tallahassee that affect college students throughout the state. Delaney said most legislators he became familiar with were nearing the end of their terms, and developing relations with legislators was beneficial to UNF.

The Spinnaker recently spoke with Delaney to discuss how UNF and other state universities are dealing with the cuts and how students can expect to be affected by further cuts.

The Florida Senate recently approved a bill to allow each state university the power to raise tuition according to its needs. What is the advantage, and how will UNF use that freedom?

Tuition in Florida is lowest in the country. If we raise tuition 15 percent per year, it would take 7 to 9 years to even get to the national average.

The bill allows each university to determine what the market will bear and balance that against the needs of faculty: adding sections, giving pay raises, hiring advisors, shrinking and helping speed-up graduation rates.

We weren’t able to give raises last year and this year, but in the four previous years, we gave biggest pay raises of any university in the system, but we would like to pay our faculty more.

Talks of state budget cuts have been prominent news for many public sectors. Are cuts to higher education harmful because a large portion of the university budget is subsidized by the state?

Yes. Because tuition is so low, when the state cuts its subsidy, we are impacted. When you take into account federal and state financial scholarships, Florida students are paying about 10 percent of their education.

In other states, you can just flip those figures. In Ohio and Michigan, it’s about 80 percent tuition and 20 percent state-subsidized. If we doubled our tuition, we would be at the national average. So I ask students, “What should you pay?” There’s a focus on the increases, but what’s the right price? What should a student pay? Thirty percent of the budget is paid bytuition, but 20 percent of that is still coming from the government, so the average student is actually paying about 10 percent of the cost.

When will UNF really get hit by budget cuts, and how are state universities going to deal with them?

We’ve already been cut nearly 10 percent during the last two years. Next year, it appears the House and the Senate are going to cut us in the low single digits. I think students by-in-large shouldn’t feel an impact, although it could be harder to get into classes. We don’t want to lay people off, and we’ve determined that one way to cut a budget is to lay off the most recent hires.

A second way would be to eliminate a department or major. A number of universities are looking at doing both, but we don’t want to do either. We think the majors we offer are appropriate for a university of our size. You can cut a program overnight, but it takes a long time to build them up.

Is there any solution to the budget problems that you might offer as a university president?

All the universities have many ways to deal with cuts, and each will choose a different vehicle. All of us would like to see more revenue come to higher education, but where will it come from? Another state program? An increase in fees or taxes? There’s really no easy fix.

Faculty have not received annual raises in two years, and other sources say adjunct teaching contracts will not be extended in the coming years. How will colleges be able to continue serving students with the individual attention that UNF strives for without that support staff?

We will probably have more adjunct positions in the coming years, and visiting faculty are what we hope to retain. It’s likely we would use some more adjuncts as a whole, and we hope to be able to renew the visiting faculty positions, but we’re not sure yet.

What funds, if any, might the SUS be receiving from the stimulus package? How long will the funds be good for?

The state’s budget has dropped 25 percent, so next year the state will have one-quarter less money. The federal stimulus plan, if used over two years, would cut that roughly in half, so the state is still short 12 to 13 percent. It appears that legislature intends to raise fees and some taxes in combination with a smaller cut to make up the whole shortage. So instead of a 25 percent cut, we are looking to have a 0 to 4 percent budget cut. I think our plan will work pretty good.

As interim chancellor, do you feel that state legislature is prepared to fund higher education as generously as before? What is the overall opinion of higher education among state legislators?

They see higher education as the solution to Florida’s problems. Education is their top priority in my opinion. If you see a legislator, I’d give them a kiss. Florida’s economy has been driven by tourism, agriculture and growth, and all three are not sustainable. For the first time in hundreds of years, more people are actually moving out of Florida than coming in.

So they see education as the advantages of having people in the state with degrees – the inventions and discoveries that faculty create or discover: curing cancer, finding ways to build homes against hurricanes, teaching teachers.

The future of the world is really a knowledge economy, and you really only develop that through a university.

What top priorities do you wish to secure when budget hearings begin for the ‘09-’10 fiscal year?

The smallest possible budget cuts. It’s sad, but we know everybody has got to be cut; we just want ours to be smallest as possible.

We’re faring a lot better than anybody else. We planned for this early, but it doesn’t mean it’s not without pain. For example, we haven’t cut the budget for faculty research.

We think it’s a priority because it allows faculty to be current in their field.

Compiled by Jonathan Morales.