Upcoming elections matter for universities, students

Look around campus. Everything – the buildings you see, the classes you take, the tuition you pay – all came from Florida’s state government.

“There’s hardly an aspect of higher education that’s not touched by state government,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor.

So why don’t students seem to care about the upcoming elections, which are fewer than two weeks away?

“Young people tend not to participate because they lack the experience,” said Edwin Benton, a political science professor who specializes in state and local government. “That usually changes when they start to pay taxes and they have children in school. They finally realize, ‘It’s worth my while.'”

But to some, it’s worthwhile now. Traditionally, Florida’s governors, regardless of party affiliation, have played a big role in higher education. And MacManus said their interest is increasing.

“Florida has a lot of entry-level jobs,” she said. “And the government wants more high-paying jobs, and higher education feeds that.”

This summer, legislators approved a $513 million budget for state universities, with USF receiving $61 million. Whether one party’s control of the state government will benefit Florida’s universities more than the other is debatable, but historically, Democrats provide more education funding, Benton said.

“Depending on who gains control or who is elected, there will definitely be a difference in the amount of funding,” Benton said. “But will the average student notice? That’s debatable.”

To combat student apathy when it comes to non-presidential election years, MacManus, along with Student Government and Pi Sigma Alpha (National Political Science Honor Society), is holding a straw poll Nov. 2 on campus. Students can vote in every election – governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House, as well as on the six amendments – between 10 a.m and 2 p.m. at either the Phyllis P. Marshall Center or Cooper Hall. All the candidates have been invited.

“We’re trying to get students engaged,” MacManus said. “We want to show that students do care about politics.”

MacManus said she hopes local media will cover the event.

“We want to put it out there that students are interested in politics and they do care,” SG senate President Barclay Harless said. “We want to show that student issues are important politically.”

As well as approving funds, the Legislature also determines curricula, available courses, grants and faculty salaries.

USF Government Relations Associate Vice President Kathleen Betancourt, who lobbies for the University, believes students should be more involved.

“And not just because they’re students, but because they’re citizens first,” she said. “I believe students want to have a better world. They can make a difference.