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Students advocate against tuition hikes

Chants from members of Students for a Democratic Society’s (SDS) could be heard across campus as they marched and protested the 15 percent tuition increase passed for Florida colleges.

All 11 Florida state universities increased tuition by 15 percent this year after a unanimous vote by the USF Board of Trustees to increase tuition to fill the deficit created by cuts in state funding.

Dustin Ponder, a junior majoring in English, stood on top of a picnic table outside Cooper Hall, where about 30 students gathered at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Ponder said he will create a movement with other SDS groups across the state.

“We’re going to confront not just our administration, (which is) passing these tuition increases, but (also) going to confront the state legislature, (which is) cutting the budget and trying to privatize higher education,” he said.

Ponder, who first became involved in SDS at the University of Florida, said after his father died, he dropped out of school to work until he earned enough money to pay his tuition.

Tuition per credit hour for the current school year on USF’s Tampa campus is $191.06, compared to $123.59 during the 2008-09 school year.

With tuition increasing, Ponder said he questioned whether students himself would able to continue attending school.

“More students have had to take out loans,” he said. “Students are working longer hours, and it’s taking away from the college experience.”

Ponder led protesters around campus, screaming chants, such as “Hey hey, hi hi, tuition here is too damn high” and “They say cut back, we say fight back,” into a megaphone.

As passersby looked on, a few joined in or followed along on bicycles. University Police also accompanied the group to preserve the peace, Lt. Meg Ross said.

Protesters walked to the former Administration building, where they jiggled the doorknob of the old Office of the Provost, which is now used for meetings with deans that occur outside the Patel Center, said USF spokeswoman Lara Wade.

The building is now inhabited by the Honors College and Graduate School.

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Alan Kent told protesters that although USF President Judy Genshaft was out of town, they may have better luck finding her or the provost at the Kiran C. Patel Center, where they moved in January.

Ponder said they went to the old building to show that administration “moved to the farthest edge of campus” and away from students.

“We went by and invited Judy and the provost to be here today,” Ponder told protesters through a megaphone.

Provost Ralph Wilcox greeted the protesters in the lobby of the Patel Center.

Ponder handed him a copy of the 3,000 signatures they collected to place a referendum on an SG ballot, which will be voted on Oct. 11-12.

Wilcox told Ponder he was open to meeting with students and encouraged further discussion, but said that with state cuts, tuition increases were necessary.

In an interview with The Oracle, Wilcox said the tuition increases still haven’t filled the nearly $25 million hole created by state cuts from the current school year.

“We certainly appreciate and recognize (the protesters’) concerns,” he said. “But (without the cuts), we’d be facing faculty layoffs, closure of classes and a reduction in programs. Basically, our ability to continue access (to) and the quality of our program would be reduced.”

Wilcox said the University is working on balancing services and tuition, while maintaining that the state of Florida currently has the third-lowest tuition in the country.

Ponder said he looks forward to meeting with the provost, but a date has not yet been set.

“We’re here to not back down on that,” he said. “We need to find a way to force the state legislature to cough up money. The administrators need to be activists with us, not just say, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ Until the student body sees action from the administration, we’re not going to buy it.”