A Florida Senate budget bill presented early last week that proposed huge state funding cuts to the University of South Florida (USF)’s Tampa campus has been amended, providing the school with $25 million in relief, partly due to widespread public outrage in the form of petitions, emails and phone calls that have been bombarding the Capitol since Tuesday to have the bill re-evaluated.

However, if passed in the Florida Legislature, the university could still be facing a huge reduction of 58-percent in its state funding. The bill would affect all of USF’s campuses, with a total cut of $128 million in state funds to all campuses by July 1, millions more than any other university in Florida.

Under the bill, the USF Tampa campus alone would see its funding cut from $178 million to $74.5 million.

According to TampaBay.org, USF is Tampa’s third largest employer, behind Hillsborough Country Public Schools (HCPS) and MacDill Air Force Base (AFB), and USF officials say this proposed cut could have a $3.7-billion economic impact on our area.

USF’s 47,000 students and 16,000 faculty members would feel the effects the most, as many classes would no longer be offered or would only be available in limited class sections. Summer sessions could be closed and faculty could be laid off.

“(USF) should be treated fairly,” said Florida House District 61 Rep. Will Weatherford (R – Wesley Chapel). “The House’s position has been very firm from the beginning. We are not going to let USF be treated unfairly.”

State Sen. JD Alexander (R-Lake Wales), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, proposed the budget cut in order to be able to “branch off” USF Polytechnic (USF Poly) in Lakeland into Florida’s 12th independent university, after the Florida Board of Governors’ November decision to keep USF Poly in the USF family until it received separate accreditation. USF Poly had recently been trying to break away from USF.

In the initial Bill, USF would have to absorb the faculty and staff from the Lakeland campus, which could cost as much as $18 million, as well as give $25 million to the state as “contingency” money for cooperating in making USF Poly into Florida Polytechnic University. However, since the Bill’s amendment, USF will no7 be required to pay the $25 million.

“We are here for a very serious purpose and that is our students,” said USF president and New Tampa resident Judy Genshaft during an emergency USF Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 13. “We want to continue to increase our reputation and our vibrancy. I know we can do it, but we’re going to need everyone’s help.”

She also said during the meeting that she has spoken with other university presidents in the state who said they are willing to work with USF to activate their legislative region to work on behalf of the whole university system to having a better budget.

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