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USF Polytech, UF budget cuts grab headlines

Students rally to protest cuts to academic programs

It’s been a rough week for a couple of Florida’s public universities Lynn Hatter reports fights over budget cuts and the future of a 12th state university have grabbed headlines around the state and the nation.  

University of Florida administrators are trying to cut about $40 million out of the school’s budget. Much of the focus has been on the school’s Computer Information Sciences program.  And students and faculty have been voicing their opinions on the issue…loudly.

Supporters of the program have been lobbying for weeks on the issue. They started an online petition, which even hit Forbes Magazine.  Computer Science is what’s called a STEM degree—a discipline heavily based in math and technology.

Jason Chi is working on a doctorate in Computer Science. He says the university’s restructuring plan could result in him having to leave the United States. He’s an international student, and part of his ability to stay in the county and get his degree depends on him having a job—many, which are supplied in the university’s research programs. But the possibility of the loss of those job positions has him worried he could lose his VISA, and have to leave, with no degree.

I’m scared. I’ve been here for four years, I want to finish my degree, I want to finish my research. I don’t want to just leave without doing good research. I want to do something good, get my degree and then get out of here.”

University President Bernie Machen released a statement trying to ease the concerns. Machen says the Computer sciences program won’t be eliminated, but rather merged with another program.

 The dust-up at UF made national news and even caught Governor Rick Scott’s attention. The cuts come at a time when lawmakers cut $300 million out of university budgets. Scott has been pushing universities to do MORE to produce STEM degrees, not less. When questioned on UF’s decision, the governor said:

“My understanding of that is…they’re saving the money by doing the right thing. They’re having the professors teach more classes. The savings was in teaching assistants.”

While UF works through its’ budget issues, the University of South Florida has been dealing with the fallout from its Polytechnic campus, which will soon become the state’s 12th public university. So far, its off to a rocky start. An internal investigation by the school into USF-Polytech’s former leaders reveal a climate of financial mismanagement and employee intimidation. The report recommends further investigation into Marshall Goodman, the man who helped craft the school’s independence bid. Governor Rick Scott signed off on the move, and this week before news of the investigation broke, he told reporters why he thought it was a good decision to create another institution at a time when the current 11 have all had their budgets cut.

“I believe in STEM degrees. I believe there’s a big need and a big opportunity for the state to grow. And I believe that long-term it’s going to pay off in jobs. I believe it will be very successful.”

The Polytech investigation calls out the campus’ top administrators—many which played key roles in pushing for the schools independence bid.

The new Polytech-U will keep all of USF-Polytech’s financial assets, but it has no physical building of its own, no students, and no accreditation. Still, the school’s biggest champion, State Senator JD Alexander, says, he’s not too worried about its future.

“We need to make sure that when we provide an education to a student it’s something that will result in a job. I believe this new university will do that in time with a very high percentage in field.”

Florida Polytechnic University is set to become the state’s 12th state university on July 1ST.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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