Empty classrooms may have students thinking spring break has come early this year. But while classes may officially be in session today, some students are hoping to make a powerful statement through their absence.
Organized by the national student advocacy group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the “National Day of Action for Education Rights” protest urges students to ditch class, march on campus and hold demonstrations today. Faculty are encouraged to perform grade-ins, or grading work in public to demonstrate the long hours faculty dedicate to their classes. According to the group’s website, the purpose of the event is to gain better access to education, lower tuition and cut the salaries of top-paid administrators.
Mirrored at USF, the protest will begin at noon outside Cooper Hall and finish at 3 p.m., following a march to the Marshall Student Center (MSC). Tampa Bay SDS will focus on University budget cuts imposed by the state Legislature and tuition hikes imposed by the Board of Governors and USF Board of Trustees, as well as advocate for the lessening or elimination of student loan debt, according to the Tampa Bay SDS Facebook page.
Corey Uhl, a senior majoring in history and an SDS organizer, said Tampa Bay SDS believes there is no place for budget cuts or tuition hikes at the University.
“We’re participating because we don’t believe there should be budget cuts – whether they’re that drastic at 60 percent or whether they pare us down to, say, 30 percent,” he said. “We believe there should be no budget cuts, whether or not they’re on par with the rest of the universities in the state. They shouldn’t be touching any of our budgets, and they shouldn’t be hiking up tuition, either.”
At Cooper, students will listen to speeches provided by faculty and staff members who “share (SDS’s) views on the current state of education,” according to a press release.
Uhl said SDS chose to emphasize the walkout because of what it represents.
“I can barely afford to go to school right now,” he said. “So I think a walkout is symbolic in that that’s what it would effectively look like, I think, (if students can’t afford to attend college).”
Uhl said American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) members will speak at the protest. Faculty members Harry Vanden, a government and international affairs professor, and Greg McColm, an associate mathematics professor, are also scheduled to speak.
“We’ll have a large (bulk) of the USF community represented,” Uhl said. “All of us will be affected by this budget cut – not just the students.”
While McColm said he would not be skipping any of his scheduled classes to attend the protest, he said he’s participating to inform students and protest the growing financial burden that students are expected to incur in the Florida public university system.
“I thought it might be useful to tell students that politics actually involve a great deal of work,” he said. “It’s not just attending or participating in the rally. I also think that the financial burden that the state has shifted onto students and their parents is inappropriate, and I think it is extremely counterproductive.”
According to a report published by the National Science Board in January, most state governments have shifted a great deal of the financial burden to students, which could put the U.S. at a disadvantage to universities in other countries.
McColm said he doesn’t feel the shifting burden is worth it.
“Florida is not unique,” he said. “A whole bunch of other states have been involved in the same sort of policies, and I think it is going to bite us in the long run if we do not reverse course.”
Though McColm said he hasn’t spoken to other faculty members about the walkout, he said he thinks most classes will be effectively canceled in reaction to the walkout.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I have a suspicion there will be very few classes and some students may attend the rally and some students may go to class, we’ll see what happens.”
– Additional reporting by Divya Kumar