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Column: Lessons learned … at the movies

The setting: Tampa, Fla. The scene: a college dorm room. The phone rings.

“Oh, hi Mom. I’m good. You? Today? I went to my macroeconomics class and then packed up the books, sent Billy to the concession stand for some popcorn and hunkered down to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone …Yes, all in the same room.”

Anywhere else in the world, this conversation would seem preposterous. But, as we’ve seen in Florida, the land of doublewide classrooms and educational penny pinchers, anything is possible.

This semester, some 5,500 students received a room assignment beginning with three letters that afore never existed: UMT. Students will listen to lectures, take exams and hold educated discussions in rooms never meant for such purposes: movie theaters.

This is because of the Florida Legislature, an organization that has never in the history of the gerontocracy known as the state of Florida given much consideration (or money) to education. This is why Florida is one of the worst states when it comes to education in the country. This is why elementary, middle and high schools have to rely on the use of portable classrooms. This is why teachers are paid $23,000 a year.

And this is why USF students now have to attend classes in dark rooms that were meant for watching movies, not holding university classes. The seating will never lend itself to discussion. The lighting is poor. The place smells of popcorn and Jujyfruits. Oh, and did I mention that it is a movie theater, for the presentation of movies?

I can see it now. Teachers rushing to conclude lectures before patrons flood in and previews begin, exams taken with movies on the brain.

“The fall of the Roman Empire sparked a tremendous – Oh God, not another Paulie Shore movie. Can’t they freeze him and put him where they put Walt Disney? – decline in the culture of Europe.”

During the infamous special session in December, state university budgets were cut by the meager sum of $83 million dollars, roughly the GDP of several African countries. The St. Pete Times reported on Jan. 6 that even before the special session, spending per university student fell nearly a grand over the past two years. Florida ranks dead last in spending on higher education.

And still, the Legislature cuts USF’s budget.I suppose that Jeb feels he is doing a good job. He has increased spending in K-12 schools by $2 billion. He won’t admit that’s a drop in a bucket of water the size of the Epcot globe. He also won’t admit that higher education programs will be cut, professors will be released, and Florida will enhance its rather odious ranking as one of the states in the lowest of the low education doldrums in the country under the current education spending.

And still, USF students will pile into the movie theaters every day. And professors will teach them, and they will record all the information in their notebooks, cleverly balanced on plastic surfaces that could double as TV dinner trays. Students will retain little and learn less. And the state will cut the education budget yet again next year, stating the need for more roads, or courthouses or jails.

“Jimmy, there’s still 10 minutes of class left.”

“Yeah, I know Professor Smith, but Lord of the Rings is starting in the next theater. I have to see the preview for the next movie. Bye.”

  • Joe Roma is majoring in political science.