Instead of an equal, reasonable discussion, USF students who attended Wednesday’s Florida Senate Budget Committee meeting were met with condescending attitudes from senators, who questioned their ability to understand the Florida budget.
Students’ comments were shot down by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations.
“Everything is a very political world up here,” Lynn told students. “What you say and how you say it is all part of your education. You need to learn about how you say things if you want to make relationships with my colleagues here who will come back.”
Another senator, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, told students there was no way she could expect them to understand how the budget process works.
Student comments were met with harsh remarks: Some were told they had their “facts wrong.” Others were told not to tick off people in power. Study the budget more in-depth, senators said. Their tones of voice, harsh and accusatory, were unnecessary toward students who want to make a real impact in the legislative process.
USF students could face a potential 58 percent budget cut to their college if the Senate’s proposed budget passes, and have a right to be concerned about the disproportionate cuts to USF compared to other Florida universities. The University of Florida, for example, could face a 25.8 percent cut, while Florida State University might lose 22.3 percent. The University of Central Florida has the second-highest proposed cut at 34.9 percent.
While there may have been some misconceptions or wrongly stated facts from USF students, that is no reason for legislators to become defensive and disrespectful toward their concerns. The Budget Committee meeting was public, and citizens attending other public meetings also state misguided or opinionated information. Yet, the Florida Senate seemed unusually harsh toward USF students, perhaps for actively attempting to influence their budget.
Students who left Tampa on shuttle buses at 3 a.m. and traveled to Tallahassee on such short notice should have been commended for putting a human face on the massive proposed cuts to higher education.
Instead, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said students should “take (understanding the budget) up as a class project.”
This is a real issue that should not be put into theoretical terms. It’s true that students are not experts in budgetary concerns. However, students are equipped with the tools, passion and intelligence to understand budgetary matters just as well as any senator – and in this case, they are much more affected by the outcome of the decision.
Many senators even benefit greatly from student interns, who are often tasked with reading and deciphering bills and budgetary documents.
Legislators and students need to use this as a learning opportunity, and should sincerely consider student concerns and respect their presence and involvement in the political process. If there is a misunderstanding or a student states a fact incorrectly, they should be corrected with patience.
Hannah Feig is a senior majoring in chemistry.