USF protests proposed budget cuts

When USF President Judy Genshaft asked the USF community to protest a 58 percent budget cut in the Florida Senate’s proposed budget, students, faculty, alumni and senators answered her call.

“Reach out,” Genshaft said to a packed audience of concerned USF faculty and students at an emergency Board of Trustees meeting Monday. “Make calls. Send emails. Touch those you know and even those you don’t know that are our friends in the Legislature to change this draconian budget. We can change this.”

Genshaft told attendees they had 10 days to three weeks – the time it will take the Legislature to pass the budget – to “really do something” to help USF, which received 20 percent of the total budget cuts to all 11 state universities in the proposed Senate budget and faces a potential $128 million loss.

By 1 a.m. Tuesday, online petitions for proportionate cuts were posted to send to Gov. Rick Scott; Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who has long fought to make USF Polytechnic an independent university; and Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations and sponsor of a bill that would take $25 million away from USF to pay for a new Polytechnic University.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the likelihood of the budget passing as it stands is low, as he believes other legislators will speak against it.

“It’s just a proposal by one senator – one vindictive senator, Senator J.D. Alexander,” he said in an interview with The Oracle. “His proposal to cut the University of South Florida by 60 percent is unconscionable and vindictiveness at an extreme.”

After Genshaft replaced Polytechnic’s regional chancellor in December, Alexander publicly criticized the decision and expressed dissatisfaction with “USF System leadership” and their commitment to helping the branch campus separate. Though Alexander has a powerful role as Budget Committee chairman, Fasano said he is not the only one to blame for the budget.

“I’m extremely disappointed with (Senate) President (Mike) Haridopolos, who has allowed him to go to these extremes,” he said. “President Haridopolos could put a stop to all of this, and he doesn’t. There’s not only Sen. Alexander to blame, but the leadership allowing him to get away with it.”

But USF students, faculty and alumni are hoping their vocal opposition to the budget will change legislators’ minds.

The Alumni Association, which pledged to rally its base of nearly 225,000 alumni, created a link for community members to automatically send emails and print letters to Scott; Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; and Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa.

“We’re ready to knock on doors,” Richard Heruska, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, said. “This particular issue attacks … the missions of the University. We’re looking out for future alumni of the University.”

At the Monday meeting, CEO of the USF Foundation Joel Momberg said emails with legislator contact information were “queued up and ready to go” to faculty, students and staff.

Athletics Director Doug Woolard said he would email all season ticket holders and fan listservs to request their help.

Jessica Stevens, a senior majoring in marketing at USF Polytechnic, created a petition called “USFP is there to create jobs, not end them!” and said students at the branch campus need to take action as well. At time of print, the petition had 617 signatures.

“Politics has kind of intertwined itself into (Polytechnic),” she said. “If students don’t stand up for their school and the faculty and community around them, then who’s going to?”

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, all Tampa students received an email from Student Government (SG) with links to contact legislators and follow the news.

SG stationed a booth in the middle of the Marshall Student Center atrium and invited passersby to write letters to their legislators. In their six hours there, more than 100 people wrote letters.

SG will also send two vans of 15 students each to the Senate Budget Committee hearing Wednesday, where the budget, as well as the bill to create an independent Polytechnic, will be heard. USF St. Petersburg and Polytechnic will also send students.

An SG resolution expressing its “adamant opposition” to the budget passed during an SG Senate meeting Tuesday night.

“The (SG) Senate is appalled by the lack of rationale or justification warranting a proposed 58 percent budget cut amassing to more than $128 million in the upcoming fiscal year,” it stated.

Fasano said the budget will likely meet opposition from legislators representing other university districts as well because of the message the disproportionate cuts to USF sends.

“What university is next, when that university doesn’t do exactly what one senator, one bully in the Senate, wants them to do?” he said. “Is it Florida State? Is it the University of Florida? Is it Florida International University? This is unprecedented and nothing more than one senator that didn’t get his way.”

But Fasano said “that one senator” is losing steam, and other legislators will try to ensure USF doesn’t see the cuts enacted. “(Alexander)’s the budget chair, and when you are the budget chair, you do have some influence and power,” he said. “But that power wanes each and every day as we get closer to the end. His term is expiring. Many of us are going to do as we can to make certain that these deep cuts that he is singling out USF, trying to punish them for no reason at all. I hope we’ll be able to stop him from doing that. I think there’s enough support not only in the Senate, but the Florida House as well.”