BOG budget head says cuts to universities hurt

A member of the body that oversees Florida’s public colleges and universities told a group of Honors College students that budget troubles facing schools like USF are “ridiculous.”

Governor Tico Perez of the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) met with a group of students Tuesday to discuss the struggles of the BOG regarding the recent statewide budget cuts, as well as the importance of being aware of the current financial climate.

“He is an advocate for students,” Provost Ralph Wilcox said.

Perez heads the BOG budget committee. He said the smartest thing the board has done is ask the universities where they thought their budgets could be cut. Each university should draw up a contract stating what its strengths are and where it plans to grow.

“It’s ridiculous, the size of the institutions we have and the funding challenges we’re facing in Tallahassee,” Perez said.

The board is discussing base budget cuts, he said. During the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the state has cut 7.4 percent of the state funds USF receives, according to President Judy Genshaft’s latest Web cast, and the University is preparing for further cuts that could raise that figure to 15 percent, costing USF $52 million overall.

Some of the reasons for the state’s budget cuts are low growth coupled with a credit crisis. The housing slump, which has decreased property tax revenue, has added to the state’s woes.

“If we can’t borrow money against our existing home, revenue goes down,” Perez said.

When students asked if the faculty was overreacting to the budget cut, Perez said they had the right to do so.

“Your faculty members aren’t lying to you – this is a real challenge,” he said.

Perez said the struggle now is to keep what resources are available around for as long as possible, and that students should keep that in mind when they see measures implemented so this can happen, including a 7 percent increase in on-campus housing costs. He believes, however, that students at the University should still be treated as if there were no budget cuts.

“We are trying to defend students and their input and their dollars,” he said. “We want to keep (USF) a great university. Let’s service the students we’ve got.”

USF students attended the meeting to become better educated about the budget cuts, which will likely affect them.

“I wanted to find out what was going on, basically to be more informed,” said freshman mathematics major Crystal Tenn.

“Everywhere I go on campus, I hear about budget cuts. I came here to learn about the budget cuts, the reason behind them and who they are going to affect,” said engineering major Kenza Mouttaki, an international student from Morocco who attended the meeting.

The students were also concerned about easing the impact of the budget cuts. Perez said the best way to do this is to avoid lingering at the University for too long – to graduate as soon as possible. He also encouraged students to become more informed about the issues and to communicate with their legislators.

“Your legislators really care about hearing from you. Everybody’s pretty accessible,” he said. “The students of the state deserve some expectations of what’s going to happen next.”

Perez said he believes it is unfair when individuals refuse to discuss prospects such as having to raise tuition or cut Bright Futures for the sake of the quality of students’ educations.

“We at least have to have dialogues. We’ve got to have some more willingness to engage in dialogue,” he said. “We’re trying to protect the integrity of the universities.”