UF students stage protest over cutbacks, tuition hikes

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 3:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 3:24 p.m.

Some University of Florida students gave low grades Thursday to faculty member and state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, filling out evaluations criticizing his support of university budget cuts and taping them to the front of UF’s administration building.

The event was part of a national day of action opposing higher education cuts. About a dozen UF students gathered the evaluations in front of Library West and marched to Tigert Hall, criticizing Haridopolos for getting a $75,000 annual salary as a UF lecturer at the same time as cuts are being made.

“We don’t want him representing our university. He’s the core of corruption,” said Sky Schmelzer, a sophomore psychology major and one of the event participants.

A sign that said “Worst professor ever” was taped to the front doors of Tigert Hall along with dozens of evaluations, which included notes that said “Get rid of him” and “He is awful. Get him out.” A spokeswoman for Haridopolos didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

The event comes as state lawmakers are negotiating a budget that includes another round of cuts for state universities. An initial Senate proposal would have cut higher education funding by $400 million, which UF Chief Financial Officer Matt Fajack said last month would have meant about $40 million in UF cuts after tuition increases.

He said the problem is the cumulative effect of cuts, after state higher education funding was reduced 24 percent over the past five years. While Haridopolos has said universities can tap reserves to cover this year’s cuts, Fajack said the so-called reserves are actually money allocated to future expenses such as lab renovations and equipment purchases.

“None of that is reserves sitting around, it’s all committed,” Fajack said.

Lawmakers have reportedly signed off on a deal to not make any state-mandated increases to tuition, although universities can still make 15 percent increases with Board of Governors approval. At the same time, lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow UF and Florida State University to raise tuition higher than 15 percent for meeting certain benchmarks.

UF President Bernie Machen supports the measure and other changes to treat UF differently than other state schools as a way to make UF competitive with national peers. UF student Conor Munro, part of Thursday’s protest, noted that Machen’s stand contrasts with Gov. Rick Scott’s stated opposition to tuition increases.

“I think we should hold Bernie Machen to Rick Scott’s promise,” said Munro, a sophomore history and economics major.

In addition to the event, members of a coalition of student groups against tuition increases called state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, to urge his opposition to the measure allowing more than 15 percent increases. Oelrich voted for the bill when it was introduced last month in the Senate Higher Education committee, which he chairs.

Junior anthropology major Robbey Hayes of Students for a Democratic Society, the protest organizer and a coalition member, said he hopes the efforts will make a difference.

“It’s an uphill battle right now for sure,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.

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