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University leaders fault Bush's proposed cuts

Educators who usually make few waves warn state legislators that students face major tuition increases and program cuts.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 13, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- State university leaders urged lawmakers Wednesday to reject Gov. Jeb Bush's proposed education budget, saying it would force them to cancel courses, lay off part-time teachers and prevent students from graduating.

Testifying before a Senate committee, university presidents and vice presidents gave some of the harshest assessments yet of Bush's budget. Their criticism is noteworthy because they generally work quietly within the system, and the presidents answer to trustees Bush appoints.

Their comments came on the eve of a rally at the Capitol by hundreds of students protesting the recommended cuts and changes in the Bright Futures scholarship program.

Speaking with one voice, the educators said the big losers in Bush's budget would be the students, who face double-digit tuition increases and program cuts.

Carl Carlucci, University of South Florida executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the school would offer fewer courses and lay off part-time faculty members unless the cuts are stopped. Carlucci said USF serves an urban population of part-time students who must work their way through college.

He said health care for the poor and uninsured also would suffer, because USF medical students also work at Tampa General Hospital.

"Poor people are just getting their butts kicked all over the place," said Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa.

"We are moving backward instead of forward," said University of Central Florida president John Hitt. "The situation is worse than it appears."

Hitt meant that universities already take in more students than the state pays for. He said the gap is widening and further cuts now would hurt the national reputation of the entire university system.

The educators said Florida already has one of the lowest percentages of college-educated adults of any state, and more cuts would only make things worse. Mark Rosenberg, provost at Florida International University, which has the most ethnically diverse student body of any state school, said Bush's budget would impede creation of a skilled work force.

"We're a global state with a global economy which is not developing a globally competitive labor force," Rosenberg said.

Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell said the top priority of each school is scaling back Bush's proposed cuts.

Bush's budget slashes university budgets by $111-million and shifts $76-million of construction money to public schools. Bush also proposed that each university raise tuition 7.5 percent.

Bush said he was proud of his budget, though he acknowledged it is a tough year. He also confronted the possibility the Senate might pass his budget in an attempt to stir even more opposition.

"I urge them to do it," Bush said.

"I submitted this budget not as a charade. This was a serious effort to deal with the priorities of this state, deal with the amendments, particularly Amendment 9, and not raise taxes during uncertain economic times. So I'm proud of the budget."

During their forum with the Senate education budget subcommittee, university leaders said the budget debate itself could hurt Florida's reputation, setting back efforts to win research grants and recruit talented faculty.

"The word of mouth is out there that we're not making the investment," said University of West Florida president John Cavanaugh.

-- Times staff writer Michael Sandler contributed to this report.

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