USF students protest budget cuts on both sides of the Bay

03/01/12 Janelle Irwin & Samuel Johnson
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Occupy Education, an off-shoot of the Occupy Movement, called for a national day of action today demanding legislation that would increase educational spending instead of cutting budgets. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, student protesters shut down most of the campus. Students at USF campuses in Tampa and St. Pete held events today in solidarity with that effort. Students at both campuses are concerned that continued budget cuts will translate into higher tuition.

At USF Tampa, students marched across campus. They ended their march at the Marshall Student Services Center where they staged a sit-in demanding restored funding. Trey Dahl is a senior at USF Tampa. He said budget cuts and tuition increases have already affected the cost of his education.

“For me personally, yeah. My first semester here at USF I actually received $2000 spending money, free of charge and everything else was paid for; fees, tuition, everything. Now in my last semester at USF, for this semester I owed $1200. And last semester I think it was 1,000. It is becoming a big deal considering when I entered this university, I had 100% Bright Future’s. I still have 100% Bright Future’s, but I still have to pay $1200 to go to class.”

USF Tampa is facing a $35 million net loss of state funding. Even though that figure is down from the original proposal that included a cut of almost $80 million, the impacts may still force USF Tampa to raise tuition. At a press conference today, John Ramil, Vice Chair if the USF Board of Trustees, called hikes all but inevitable.

“When you look at the reserves and as John Long said, whatever we do we are not going to totally spend down the reserves, that would not be prudent. We have to go into keep a reserve. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year. And we don’t know what’s going to break. We are being put in a position of having no choice but to raise tuition. At what level, I don’t know. We haven’t analyzed that, but that is the very obvious position we are being put in.”

And before a rally at the St. Petersburg campus, alumnus Chuck Terzian invited students and supporters to give video testimony about how cuts to higher education impacted them. Terzian said he has heard from numerous students that are afraid more tuition hikes may be coming; the cost of tuition is already making some spread classes out over longer time frames. But he added students haven’t been the only ones feeling the belt tighten.

“Professors have been replaced with adjuncts or traveling professors, especially when they retire. Then there’s also been rumors of layoffs. Staff – I’ve heard from a secretary that she’s doing two people’s job. I also heard from a department that they had grad students look on Craigslist and get a copier for their department for free that works sometimes. That’s no way to run a university.”

USF St. Pete’s portion of the $400 million slash across all 11 state universities isn’t as much as her big sister. But after lawmakers agreed to restore some of the funding originally slated to be taken from USF Tampa, St. Pete’s went from losing less than $1 million to more than $2 million. Pam Muller is a professor in the College of Marine Science at the St. Pete campus. She’s holding a portion of her class this afternoon outside so students can see what is being done to stop the funding cuts.

“They are hurting our ability to provide education for the people of Florida and people throughout the United States because we are a major research one university and we want to do good things for the whole United States.”

And reductions in education spending have also been impacting K - 12 public schools. Bruce Nissen is a member of the United Faculty of Florida. The group advocates for higher education, but he’s also concerned about public schools who largely feed Florida’s state universities.

“Last year our Governor took 1.3 billion out of the general education budget. This year he gave back about a billion of it and pretends like that’s an increase in support of education. It’s still a cut of three tenths of a billion dollars to education. Education funding has only been going down for quite some time and it’s going to continue to until we change the priorities.”

Students want state legislators to find ways to raise revenue instead. At both rallies, students called on lawmakers to cut from the top 1% instead of from education. Nissen said there are plenty of ways to avoid cutting funding to essential state programs.

“I think they could, on, stop giving greater tax breaks to corporations. Two, they could close a lot of the tax loopholes we’ve got right now. Many, many things go un-taxed. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s not a budget expert or a tax expert in the country that thinks that thinks our tax system makes any sense whatsoever. It’s just larded with loopholes that special interests have bought and that’s the kind of thing that should be done to raise more revenue so we can have an adequate infrastructure including an adequate education system in this state to make this a world class state.”

Organizers of the events in Tampa and St. Pete said about 60 groups around the country were planning events to speak out about funding cuts to all public education. Those events include walk-outs, teach-ins, marches and rallies. The march in Tampa drew about 150 students and supporters including some from Occupy Tampa who stand in solidarity with students. It was part of a statewide movement initiated by the Florida Alliance for Student Action. Students from Florida State University will be marching into downtown Tallahassee as members of their Board of Trustees meet with legislators. At least four other state universities are planning actions as well.

information from the AP was used in this report

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