Citing Genshaft’s salary of $800,000 a year, SDS aimed to “chop from the top,” saying that if budget cuts are so necessary, they should be taken from the financial comfortable administration.
But the four-hour protest, which took place mostly in the bottom floor of the Patel Center, focused largely on the 15 percent tuition increases in previous years and 11.8 percent increases among Florida universities last year.
SDS Member Danielle Leppo, one of the most vocal activists at the protest, feels members of her generation will be stuck paying back loans for what she believes is a basic right, until the day they die. “The average student here at USF has $22,000 in loans,” said Leppo. “People have to work part time, they have to beg for money from their parents and people do a lot of things that they shouldn’t have to do for the basic right of education.”
Tuesday began Florida’s 60-day legislative session, where Gov. Rick Scott championed earmarking $15 million in his proposed budget that would help University of Florida climb into the top 10 among the nation’s public universities.
“If we aren’t UF of FSU, we are taken advantage of by the state,” said an SDS member during the protest. “That isn’t right.“
Earlier this year, Scott claimed his $74.2 billion state budget would restore $300 million in general revenue taken by the Legislature from public university reserves. Scott also proposed the Finish in Four Program, which would lock tuition for students who graduated in four years.
But the Students for A Democratic Society aren’t holding their breath.
As the group made their way into the Patel Center lobby, University media and public affairs coordinator, Adam Freeman, who was able to arrange dialogue between the students and Chief Operating Officer, John Long, greeted them.
President Genshaft was said to be unavailable for the remainder of the afternoon.
The exchange between Leppo and Long, as well as other members of the group and Long, was laced with raised voices and sarcasm by both parties, while Freeman played mediator.
“The session started yesterday, so as we mentioned here, the president along with other university presidents united to the legislature to hold, to restore funding and no tuition raises, to hold it flat,” said Long. “And that is our hope.”
As the day grew long, SDS refused to leave until President Genshaft showed her face in order for the group to hand her a “list of demands” regarding budget cuts and tuition increases in person.
Growing impatient, they attempted to ride the elevator, to the forth floor which housed Genshaft’s office, but were stopped by University Police.
“We wanted to try to go upstairs, but we’re not allowed to go upstairs apparently and we were never even told why,” said Leppo. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Around 4 p.m., Student Body President Brian Goff arrived to speak with the organization in a classroom. About an hour later, protestors still felt they were simply being tossed around as a distraction.
“I think that as always it could have gone better, but it’s always good to hear the voices of the students,” said Goff. “If they want their message to be successful they need to be more willing to hear voices of those they’re meeting with. I think that was kind of missing with the conversation, but they got some good points out that we’re definitely going to try and move forward to the resident and to the provost and the upper administration.”
SDS left the building as it closed at 5 p.m., with a strategy formed with Goff’s help.
Their goals are still in place and Leppo says they will not stop until President Genshaft expands the recognition of diversity at USF and in the eyes of the Legislature.
“The diversity statement at USF doesn’t include socioeconomic diversity. That’s something to consider when we talk about diversity, said Leppo.”It’s more than just black and white. It’s rich and poor too.”