Members of Awake Pinellas captured the voices of students angered with recent plans calling for substantial state cuts to the USF budget, as well as most other Florida public universities, setting up a small video camera by the Harborwalk fountain.
Awake Pinellas is the local branch of Awake the State, a Florida group that started in March 2011 in opposition to budget cuts proposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature. The March 1 event on campus also had a petition that students could sign against the budget cuts, in addition to the recording.
“We really think its important that our legislatures hear our voices and know exactly why its bad—not only the economic impact but the quality of education impact that it’ll have,” said Awake Pinellas member Chuck Terzian, a recent USFSP graduate who is also involved in the Alumni Association.
The original plan for cuts proposed earlier in February would have meant a 58 percent reduction in state funding to USF—about $79 million. An additional $25 million was to be held contingent upon USF’s cooperation in USF Polytechnic becoming the state’s 12th public university. USFSP would have taken a $600,000 cut.
The most recent compromise reached in the Florida Senate will instead cut $2.21 million from USFSP, along with $1.18 million from USF Sarasota-Manatee.
Terzian fears budget cuts will lead to limited course selection and times, in addition to continued increases in tuition costs.
“That’s not how you run a university that’s in competition with private universities, let alone other states’ universities,” Terzian said. “It’s just time to say that we want a budget increase—we need a budget increase.”
Terzian said the state should focus on things like closing corporate tax loopholes rather than cutting education funding.
“Our education system is an investment in our future and in jobs, and if students turn away from USF St. Petersburg, that’s a direct effect on our local economy,” he said.
Students Thomas Hamby and Michael Murphy signed the petition. Freshman Hamby says cuts to USF would be a “devastating blow” to USFSP, and is concerned that the cost of fees, and room and board would increase.
Murphy, an environmental science and policy major, suggested the state could cut from other areas to offset a budget deficit, like oil or other non-renewable resources, and use more recycled materials to rebuild infrastructure.
Bruce Nissen, a professor at Florida International University involved with Awake the State, helped alert students to the petition. Nissen is concerned that tuition costs will continue to increase 15 percent each year.
“[The state is] dumping more and more of the cost of higher education onto the students, away from public support,” he said. “We need to support the infrastructure in the state of Florida and raise the money necessary to do that, and one of the most important parts of Florida’s infrastructure is the higher education system.”
Student Maria Hayes will graduate with her bachelor’s degree at the end of the summer, and hopes to pursue a master’s degree. She has two daughters, and wants education to be affordable for herself and other students now, and for her daughters in the future.
“They say we need to tighten our budget strings, yet they’re cutting the budget in places that matter, that actually help build a nation’s infrastructure, which is education,” she said. “We need to have an educated working class. If you don’t have that, then you have a failing nation.”
Photo by Christopher Guinn