The University of South Florida has long held a vital role in the community for Floridians of all walks of life. Very few citizens from the Sunshine State can list a single member of their family who has never gone to USF as a student, patient, or sport’s fan. Nevertheless, it remains something of an unassuming middle child as far as local renown goes. Despite the university’s steadily rising credentials, Florida State and the University of Florida still overshadow the Bulls like prettier older sisters. Maybe Florida lawmakers were counting on that fact when they attempted to slash USF’s budget.
The hoopla over USF’s budget all started with a proposed USF Polytechnic. The Florida Board of Governors, which establishes the policies for the state universities, had already agreed that USF Poly would remain a part of USF proper until it gained its own accredidation. The budget recently passed by the Florida legislature would overhaul that plan.
Instead, the millions of dollars invested in the training of USF Poly professors and the construction of the campus would become completely removed from USF. In the originally proposed budget, a massive $25 million would have been held hostage from USF’s budget until government officials felt satisfied that the university was going to allow USF Poly to exist as a completely independent institution in Lakeland. Furthermore, an additional $400 million would have been withheld from USF on the grounds that USF has considerable contingencies funds.
USF, in fact, does not at all have largest reserve funds. Outrage exploded in the local media. Opponents of the severe cuts pointed out the huge economic impact that USF has for Tampa Bay. In a still fragile economy, these detractors argued that the bill would have a ripple effect on the state’s unemployment rate. Students from USF were no less upset about the cuts. Before lawmakers capitulated, USF might have had to completely drop majors and stop summer classes.
Students from USF drove hours to Tallahassee in order to protest the cuts. Matt Dias, USF Student Body President, threatened lawmakers about the issue for which they should show concern – re-election. He vowed that USF students would rally behind the defeat of lawmakers in favor of what they view as disproportionate cuts to USF and would instead support “pro-education” candidates.
Faced with this type of pressure from the community at large, on February 15, lawmakers agreed to release the $25 million they had intended to withhold from USF. However, this step is not the end for those who still view the cuts to USF as too large. Instead, in the minds of those like Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, it is only “a step in the right direction.