It seemed a mere formality Thursday when the USF Board of Trustees voted to initiate tuition increases for the entirety of the coming academic year.
New tuition rates will see five and 10 percent increases for resident undergraduates and graduates respectively. For students holding residency out-of-state, the increases are substantially higher, reaching as high as 18 percent for both undergraduates and graduates.
BOT chairman, Dick Beard, said the increase is meant to provide a better environment for students. Beard said the increased revenue is slated for use in scholarship funds, increasing teacher pay and hiring new teachers.
“I’m hopeful people will be able to understand we’re doing this to make the university a better place,” Beard said. “Most of that money is going back into enhancements.”
Thursday’s vote was meant to lengthen an existing tuition increase rule that was set during an emergency board conference call on June 21. The hasty 12-minute conference call was held to increase tuition for the fall semester, because approval of such a rule at Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting would not have allowed enough time for implementation this fall.
As in the June conference call, the only BOT member who voted against the resolution was Student Body president Mike Griffin. Griffin was also the only BOT member to vote against Parking and Transportation Services’ decal fee increases at the board’s May meeting.
Griffin said he supports what the money is being used for, and doesn’t necessarily think tuition increases are bad. He said his main concern is the possibility that increases ranging as high as 20 percent could continue during the next few years.
“I’m an uptight guy when it comes to finances,” Griffin said. “I think we could do a lot more with what we’ve got.”
Beard said he understood why the Board’s lone student representative disagreed with the increase. He said, however, that the new increases are best for a university still reeling from a heavy round of budget cuts.
Griffin said he has spoken with out-of-state students who say that even with the heavy increase, they pay less at USF than they would at other universities. He said he is mostly worried that a freshman may, in four years, pay twice as much as current seniors.
Griffin said the other BOT members must weigh many factors, and he understands why they do not agree with him.
“I guess I’m too fiscally conservative for the board,” Griffin said.
It seems the one issue that Griffin and Beard can agree on is that of controversial professor Sami Al-Arian. Beard said he made a statement before the board in which he applauded Genshaft’s decision to take the case to court.
Beard has been criticized by some and praised by others for statements in which he called Al-Arian a terrorist.
Beard said he stands by his statements and is proud of Genshaft.
“I believe this guy has been fundraising for terrorist organizations for years,” Beard said. “(His) actions are, in the president’s words, those that define a terrorist. You don’t have to be the guy holding the gun.”
Professor Roy Weatherford, who last week appeared on The O’Reilly Factor to discuss the Al-Arian issue, said he spoke before the board about the situation and the threat it presents to university faculty. He said he is concerned about the implications the Al-Arian case has against the grievance process.
“In 28 years of defending faculty rights, I have never known a university to sue its own faculty,” Weatherford said. “It is certainly potentially dangerous.”
Weatherford said he was intrigued by Genshaft’s surprise decision to take the case to court. He said Beard’s congratulatory statements to Genshaft in front of other board members does not make a difference to him.
“I don’t try to tell the administration how to deal with each other,” he said.
Beard said the rest of the board members and administration officials do not agree with Weatherford’s comments.
“Roy Weatherford is the only one that’s come out wanting to keep this guy on campus,” Beard said.
Griffin said he agrees with Beard’s congratulatory statement. He said Genshaft handled the situation well.
“As an academic president, she’s got to do what’s in the best interest of the university,” Griffin said. “It’s important we don’t rush to a conclusion, and (that we) take prudent steps.”
But in the end, Al-Arian needs to go, he said.
“I want him gone, and I’ve stood by that decision for a while,” Griffin said.