USF students demand no more tuition hikes, they sit in for the 4th Friday in a row

04/12/13 Janelle Irwin
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Some USF students have been staging sit-ins at the University of South Florida in Tampa for four Fridays in a row. Even though the group today was small, they were still demanding that the USF president start working with them to meet their list of demands.

The group piles into the Patel Center lobby every Friday at lunchtime. They stay until the building is about to close and the last employees are going home. But Students like Matthew Hastings most want to talk to is president Judy Genshaft.

“Well, we have eight general demands and basically they can be categorized into ending tuition hikes and budget cuts especially those that are imposed by the board of trustees because we’re pretty used to the state legislature pushing these budget cuts as well as tuition hikes, but we expect the representatives of this campus to take a stronger stand against those and they haven’t.”

The state legislature cut just under $300 million from Florida’s public universities last year. Some of that money could be restored this year, but only if a 6% tuition hike is approved.

“We’re also protesting the privatization on campus. I mean, whether it’s Barnes and Nobles or other services that are outsourced to private companies, it just raises the cost for students in the long run.”

Rising college costs have left millions of students nationwide saddled with debt. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, more than half of Florida college students graduate with student loan debt. Of those, students carry an average debt of $23,000 and that’s only for a bachelor’s degree. Those daunting figures have left USF freshman Veronica Antonio Juarez searching for any scholarship or grant she can get her hands on.

“It’s really difficult because I come from a community where not many people are able to afford college. So, every week I make sure that I apply to at least two to five because if not I’d have no other way to pay for college.”

And it’s not just tuition costs that are bogging students down. Juarez said she’s also left spending hundreds of dollars per semesters on materials for her classes.

“You do have to pay for, like, books are very expensive because every class requires a different book and sometimes there’s not much difference between one book and another and then different classes you need different clickers for attendance and so you’re spending about $100 – I spent this semester $100 on three clickers.”

Clickers are a new way for professors in large classes to keep track of attendance electronically. Students participating in the sit-ins have been trying desperately to talk to president Judy Genshaft. Yesterday, a group got that opportunity by happenstance, but Students for a Democratic Society’s Danni Leppo said they were disappointed by her response.

“They just happened to stumble upon her at the inauguration for student body president and she refused to answer any questions directly related to our demands of tuition increases and no more budget cuts and how she needs to be an advocate for students and she’s not. We need her to be a representative of us as students and she’s not doing that on our behalf to the state.”

A spokesperson for USF checks in regularly with the students sitting in. Today he told them Genshaft was off campus. He also gave them a letter from Genshaft in response to their demands. It recommended that they schedule a meeting with the Dean of Students. Leppo said they’re not going to do that.

“Our request was to meet with the president Judy Genshaft. So, when we receive a letter saying, to set up a meeting with other people, we interpret this letter as just a three paragraph long ‘no’ to our request.”

The USF sit in today comes as hundreds of students are striking at Indiana University with similar demands. The demands are: reduce tuition and eliminate fees, stop privatizing and outsourcing, end the wage freeze, double enrollment of minority students, no retaliation for striking students and repeal legislation that bars undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. USF student Matthew Hastings said he’s keeping a close eye on what happens in Indiana.

“They’ve elevated their struggle to the highest level which is shutting down their campus and getting the support of not only students, but faculty and staff which is what’s necessary to create a dialogue and send a strong message to the administrators as well as our state legislators and ultimately if this is a nationwide movement, it would affect our federal policy as well.”

Indiana University students are on their second day of system-wide protests. According to their website, planning for the strike has been going on since at least January. USF students will be back at the Patel center for another sit-in next Friday.

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