On March 6, 2013, members of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society joined by USF students and staff rallied against tuition hikes and budget cuts at USF. Both the state legislature and USF Board of Trustees have consistently voted in favor of budget cuts and tuition hikes. The rally was directed at the USF BOT and administration urging them to take a clear stand against budget cuts and to refrain from imposing any more hikes on students.
Around 30 SDS members, students, and staff rallied in the Marshall Student Center, unveiling a banner that declared “Education is a right, not a privilege” and showed that the average USF student will graduate with around $22,000 in debt. Students used a “human mic” to speak out on various issues that affect students from higher tuition hikes, increasing student debt, free speech and the sanctity of public education. A supporter from the AFSCME Local 3422 stated that the union agreed with the students in their demand that education is a right. Speakers lamented the protection of corporate interests in deference to student and worker interests at the university. After occupying the student center students began their march through campus towards the administration building. Students used bullhorns to chant, “No cuts, no fees, education should be free” and “Cut administration, not education”.
As the march reached the Patel Center for Global Solutions, students were met by John Long and Dee Sisco who explained the administration’s policy towards budget cuts and tuition hikes: a necessary evil. Repeatedly questioned as to why students and workers are the first ones to be burned by cut backs, Long at one point derisively asked a student, “Are you a lawyer?” and “Do you study law?”, when he was asked if he thought it was fair that many of the people on the Board of Trustees held corporate and bank interests related to student loans. The students had come to present President Judy Genshaft with a student agenda, but other administrators and a public relations specialist were sent in her place. After engaging in a dialogue with administrators and presenting them with the agenda that contained a list of eight demands to protect student interests, the administrators then left, but students stayed and re-affirmed their request to meet with President Genshaft for ten minutes, or long enough for her to make a small statement to the students. Students then began a sit-in in the Patel Center, not leaving until they could meet with the President.Students then called the Office of the President and encouraged allies who were not present to do the same. First, students were told that the President and her secretary were in meetings for the rest of the day and there was no way to access her schedule. Other students were told that she was booked for “the entire month”. Having difficulty ascertaining the true nature of the President’s schedule, students decided to visit the Office themselves, but were blockaded by officials and police officers and told that they did not have permission to go any further, despite it being a public university. One student who attempted to enter an elevator was pushed away from doing so by a police officer.
Students were met with more officials and law enforcement, but remained firm in having the ability to even schedule a meeting with the President of their university. Eventually Student Government President Brian Goff was brought over to engage in a roundtable with students and help them in their quest to schedule a meeting. He explained his vote to increase tuition as a compromise between higher increases. After a series of questions and answers, students pressed for him to use his position to find a way to meet with the President, after a year of unsuccessful tries. Goff returned at 5 pm as the building was closing, to inform students that no one in the entire building had the ability to schedule meetings and that the President and her secretary had left an hour before, while students were still downstairs waiting. With a refusal to meet with students, the students remained committed to building the fight against tuition hikes and corporate influence and to plan further actions.
Students from across the nation will be planning actions on March 14th on their campuses to defend education. (March 14th is during USF’s spring break)