Despite the loss of $3 million in budget vetoes, the University of West Florida appears to be on solid footing heading into next fiscal year.
The 2017 legislative process was the first for UWF with Dr. Martha Saunders at the helm. After the dust settled from last week’s Special Session, WUWF invited President Saunders to discuss how the university fared.
“Well this was a fairly rocky year for higher (education) in general. UWF, though, ended up in very good shape,” Dr. Saunders said. “We got money to complete our Science Annex Lab. We got money for Advanced Manufacturing and we got $2.7 million to support top programming. So, we are happy about the new monies that we got and what we’re going to be able to do with them."
The final budget figures aren’t in yet, but Saunders expects a big boost to the ‘bottom line’ when the University Performance Metrics and Rankings are released at the Florida Board of Governors meeting next week.
“We are looking forward to a very, very, very good year,” said Saunders. “We have reason to believe that we have increased substantially this year and that that will yield additional funding for the university.”
Just one year ago, UWF ranked next to last among the 11 state universities in the 2016 Performance Funding Model. If their projections are confirmed, UWF could wind up in the top three this year, in line to receive an enhancement of $20 million.
The university is also optimist about opportunities through Triumph Gulf Coast. The organization will manage the bulk of Florida’s share of the BP Oil Spill Settlement, which is now guaranteed to come to the eight most impacted counties here in the Panhandle.
However, the 2017 legislative process wasn’t all “smooth sailing,” as Governor Rick Scott vetoed $4.1 million in funding to UWF, including $1.1 million from the Archaeology Institute.
During the Special Session last week, Saunders and her team scrambled to get the money back.
“The archaeology money, uh, there was an override by the Senate. The House agreed. The governor has committee to leaving that alone and we were greatly relieved.”
They're relieved in large part because of the Luna Settlement Project. UWF Archaeology began research in 2015 after discovery of Tristan de Luna’s 1559 colony along Pensacola Bay. Cuts would have dealt a blow to the Luna research. However, Saunders says it would have continued, not only because of its importance to the University, but to the Pensacola community as well.
Despite restoration of the archaeology money, $3 million in budget vetoes were upheld.
The university’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (a shared program with the University of Florida) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (offered in partnership with the University of South Florida) lost about $1 million each, essentially de-funded.
“Just because funding goes away, doesn’t mean the program goes away. It does, however, mean that the university has to step back, take a look at the program, [and] consider whether it makes enough of a contribution to the overall well-being of the university to continue it.”
At this point, it’s not clear if those programs will continue.
Saunders says the university is committed to creation of a new PhD in Robotics and Intelligent Systems in partnership with the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). That program also lost about $1 million to Gov. Scott’s veto pen.
While, the 2017 legislative process was not Saunders’ first, it was the first time she had to navigate the political waters as university president and she found it a bit more demanding. Now with that behind her, she’s looking ahead to what’s next.
“We have a number of new programming opportunities that we’re launching,” said Saunders. “What we’re calling the ‘Next Big Thing’ proposals are being launched just as fast as I can get them in, including UWF Global on-line, enhanced cyber security, more STEAM initiatives.”
“Lots of cool stuff,” she says, that “will make it an interesting year.”
The new fiscal year begins July 1. The fall semester starts August 28.