The future of higher education, USF System President Judy Genshaft said, looks “promising.”
Genshaft spoke at Tuesday’s Student Government Senate meeting, along with other members of university administration, addressing issues of legislation and plans for the university after weeks of conversation with the state Legislature.
“I believe that the budget stands, both the Senate and the House have taken, reflect a true commitment to higher education in Florida, and we are very optimistic,” Genshaft said.
After coming back from the state capital earlier in the day, Genshaft said she was happy to report the 2013 session has been a better experience than last year’s session, which saw $300 million in budget cuts to the State University System and the splitting of the Polytechnic branch campus from the USF system to create a 12th public university.
“The $50 million dollar cut that we took in 2012 will be restored to USF so that we can replenish our reserves, and continue to move the university forward,” she said.
Last year’s cut, she said, left a larger impact because of the recurring cuts over the past five to six years. In the aftermath of the cuts last year, Genshaft and the other state university presidents came together to create the “Aim Higher” campaign to lobby for a return of the $300 million to the budget of the state university system and an addition of $118 million in performance-based funding. In return, they said they would not seek tuition increases — something Gov. Rick Scott has expressed opposition to.
But though the economy is better, Genshaft said there are competing needs in the Legislature, leaving the possibility of a tuition hike still on the table for the next academic year.
“As it stands now, the House budget calls for a 6 percent tuition hike, while the Senate seems to have followed Gov. Scott’s position for no tuition increase,” she said.
In addition to discussing legislative matters in Tallahassee, Genshaft also spoke about the university’s work on campus to improve student success, ranging from expanding undergraduate research programs and travel scholarships for students, to study abroad scholarship programs.
“I truly believe that all should include international travel as part of your education, and this passport program goes to students who have never traveled before, or who have a need and cannot afford to travel and this is what this is for, it is to make a difference for students to have an opportunity to travel internationally,” she said.
Following Genshaft’s speech to the Senate was a question-and-answer session with members of the audience.
A senator from the College of Public Health, Cha-Kara Parkman-Wimberly asked Genshaft if there were any plans from the Legislature to assist student veterans, which she said SG had addressed as an issue at USF Day at the Capitol. In response, Matt Diaz, a government relations assistant for USF, said there was a piece of legislation that would improve veteran affairs which passed one chamber of the Legislature, and the university is “waiting to see” how it will go through the other chamber.
Matt Hastings, a senior majoring in anthropology, said he and members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), who have been waiting in the Patel Center for Global Solutions every Friday this month to meet with Genshaft, were not satisfied with Genshaft’s speech and answers to audience members.
One of the concerns voiced by SDS members at the meeting was in regards to the number of rapes reported on campus in recent years. The members requested Genshaft to take more of a stance on the issue, and possibly create a required course on rape awareness and sexual violence.
“As a public figure, the head of this school should make a public statement,” Hastings said. “We would really like her to stand on the side and really stand against rape culture fully by making public commitments… and direct certain policy makers to do so.”
Genshaft, followed by Dean for Students Michael Freeman, said the concern was “very important” and that the responsibility of the reducing crimes and campus safety was up to all members of the community equally.
Hastings said SDS was not satisfied with the interaction and will continue to wait for a meeting with Genshaft in the Patel Center on Fridays until they “open a dialogue for students.”
“This is more of a public statement of students committing to fighting this,” Hastings said. “It’s a statement to the lack of transparency and democracy in our university where students can’t even schedule a meeting with the president to open a dialogue. Whether or not she is for or against tuition hikes, students really have no say when they are up. We are supposed to trust the representatives in Student Government we’ve elected, but unfortunately they are the same ones who’ve voted for tuition increases in the past. A lot of students don’t have any faith in those representatives, seeing them contrary to student interests.”
Genshaft, in her closing remarks, said the university has heard students “loud and clear” on what they expect from their university experience.
“You want great value in your tuition investment, as well as for full cost attendance here at USF, and we believe we have provided it to you,” she said. “(We believe we) can always do better. There are ways to make a difference, and we are out there trying to do so.”