UF trustees give initial OK to hiking undergrad fees
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.
As a boisterous group of students protested tuition hikes, University of Florida trustees voted Thursday to create a new fee that would amount to a 5 percent tax on undergraduate tuition.
The board of trustees' education policy and strategy committee approved the new "undergraduate enhancement fee" to fund higher stipends for graduate teaching and research assistants. UF President Bernie Machen said graduate assistants teach a significant number of undergraduate classes.
"By improving their lot (and) making us better able to recruit and retain graduate students, it has a direct impact on the education that the undergraduates receive," he said.
The committee is comprised of the entire board, but the full board must still pass the fee today and the state Board of Governors must approve it before it can take effect in the next academic year. The fee would amount to 5 percent of the base tuition set by the state and apply only to undergraduates.
It would cost $178 for a student taking 30 credit hours a year under current tuition rates, according to UF.
The committee also passed increases to existing fees that will be used in part to help fund a $75 million expansion and renovation of the Reitz Union student center. The project would demolish the union colonnade, replacing it with a 110,000-square-foot, multilevel structure. Another 75,000 square feet in renovations would be done to the rest of the union.
The decisions came as the newly formed Gator Student Alliance, a coalition of several major student groups, protested 15 percent annual tuition increases. Dozens of students marched through campus to the trustees' meeting. A number stayed to attend the session when fees were considered, before leaving abruptly in protest after not being allowed to speak.
Board liaison Jamal Sowell said afterward that the group hadn't made a formal request to speak. Board Chairman Carlos Alfonso had a contentious exchange with the group outside the meeting, leaving as they chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, tuition increases have got to go."
"That's insulting. That's not the way we work here," Alfonso said as he left.
Later in the meeting, Alfonso apologized for his "terse conversation" with the students.
"I know how compassionate they are and how much they care, so if I appear to be uncaring, it's only because I can get a little hot as a Hispanic," he said.
In making the case for the new fee, Machen presented figures showing that UF's tuition is about 51 percent of the average of public universities in the Association of American Universities, a group of top research universities.
Machen later said that the fee would allow graduate stipends to increase 10 percent on average.
The board unanimously approved creating the fee, but Student Government President Anthony Reynolds abstained from the vote.
"At the end of the day, I felt like I was being forced to choose between undergraduate students and graduate students," he said after the meeting.
Trustees also approved a $1.51 increase in the activity and service fee and a 53 cents increase in the transportation fee, while keeping athletic and health fees at their current levels. Those fees also would need to be approved by the Board of Governors before taking effect in the next academic year.
Eighty-seven cents of the activity and service fee would be used to fund the union project. Last year, students overwhelmingly opposed creating a new fee to fund the union project in an non-binding vote. Student Government Treasurer T.J. Villamil presented thousands of student letters in support of using existing fees to fund the union's expansion and renovation.
"It's time to invest in a student union that will meet the needs of present and future Gators," he said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.
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