They left in buses at 5:30 a.m., but students who traveled to Tallahassee for USF Day at the Capitol said they were still filled with energy after a day of meetings with more than 30 state legislators.
The initiative, which was revived after four years, was designed to give USF a chance to have its voice heard and its face seen in the city that decides its budgetary fate each year.
In previous years, an entourage of students would attend the Florida Student Association’s annual “Rally in Tally,” but this year two buses of about 60 students, USF president Judy Genshaft, Athletics Director Doug Woolard, football coach Willie Taggart and even a basketball jersey-clad Rocky D. Bull spent the day in Tallahassee mingling with the legislators who begin their discussions on higher education in early March.
“We really wanted to showcase USF and show the legislature how great of a university we are and how great our system is,” Lindsay Lewis, a senior majoring in political science and adviser for governmental relations to Student Government (SG) who planned the day, said. “And that’s what we did. I think our mission was accomplished.”
Student body president Brian Goff said he thought the legislators the group met with, which included Speaker of the House Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, received the students’ message well.
The students, Goff said, shared personal stories that demonstrated USF’s three main requests: a restoration of the full $300 million cut from the State University System’s budget last year in addition to $118 million to be allocated based on performance, an investment in online education and a commitment to bring in-state tuition to student veterans.
“A lot of representatives in the House told us, ‘Don’t worry. We want the same things as you do,'” Goff said.
The students had a packed itinerary, breaking from their meetings for lunch and a reception at the Governor’s Club, which was attended by several prominent alumni and former USF president Betty Castor.
“Honestly, the meetings were wonderful, but I think the presence we brought to Tallahassee was great,” Goff said. “It was a great feeling to be hurrying through some of the hallways and stopping outside elevators … and hearing people say, ‘I’ve seen a lot of Bulls today. The herd was out today.’ I think that puts us in a much better situation come the session starting in a couple of weeks.”
Goff said hearing other students’ satisfaction with the day was rewarding.
“Seeing the students interacting with their legislators is the best thing I could have asked for,” he said. “I could go meet with the legislators anytime, but (the legislators) are never going to get the actual bringing up of 60 students … who are actually impacted by tuition increases. That means 10 times more than just me meeting with the legislators.”
Lewis said she thought the legislators also took something away from the day.
“It’s really powerful to bring students and put them in front of legislators,” she said. “When we walk in there and show them personal stories about how tuition hikes are affecting our lives, it has much more of an impact.”
SG will also sponsor a bus to take students to Tallahassee for FSA’s “Rally in Tally” on April 3.
Last year, SG allocated $74,200 in Activities and Service fees toward the event, but Lewis said SG spent less than $10,000 for Tuesday’s event.
But Goff said it is still early in the legislative season, and USF may need to have its voice heard again.
“If we face something like the budget cuts we saw in the last session or the splitting of Polytechnic, I will not hesitate to bring out two, three, four how many ever buses of students who want to go there and return,” he said. “If we need to, we’ll do this as many times during the upcoming session to make sure our alma mater is taken seriously in years to come.”