The following is a guest post from Damon Dennis, the president of Student Government at USF Polytechnic.
In the fiasco surrounding the fate of University of South Florida Polytechnic, the students of this campus have neither been heard nor consulted on the issue. The fact that the students have been consistently ignored by all but a few legislators and administrators demonstrates that the move toward separation is not about the public interest.
Senator J.D. Alexander claims that among his reasons for pushing for an immediate separation of USF Polytechnic from USF is because of the current leadership here at Polytechnic. However, if there was one person that all of the students could agree had their best interests in mind it would be Regional Chancellor David Touchton. The students are proud to have him standing up for USF Polytechnic and are glad that Marshall Goodman was removed late last year.
While attending the Senate meeting on February 23rd the students around me were visibly shaking with anger as Senator Alexander and Senator Evelyn Lynn showed absolutely zero respect for the students and people of the USF Polytechnic community. The busloads of students that attended the Senate Budget Committee meeting and the Senate vote on SB 1994 were not there simply over budget cuts. We were primarily there to defend USF Polytechnic against a cynical ploy by individually powerful politicians to implement their agenda at any cost.
During the hearing, Senator Jim Norman stated that USF President Judy Genshaft was cooperative. He further explained this by telling us that President Genshaft asked him to vote for a “compromise” bill reducing budget cuts in return for ceasing resistance to the separation plan. This unexpected statement left students feeling betrayed. We have yet to hear a straight answer explaining why President Genshaft supports this legislation. Senator Norman has been regarded as a hero of sorts for USF, but at USF Polytechnic his name leaves a bitter taste.
It should be clear to everyone by now that those excessive cuts were created only to pressure USF into doing what Senator Alexander demanded. Senator Alexander often compares this to a divorce. In a sense he is right, he gets the house and USF gets some of the money back. Sadly though, custody won’t be decided until after the bill is signed into law. More accurately, this is a hostage situation with USF’s budget as the hostage.
The question still remains as to why students were never brought into the discussion. Senators Alexander and Lynn have not even bothered to stop by our campus to explain to students how any of this is justified or in everyone’s best interests. The only thing that the students, staff, and faculty know about this is that it has the potential to turn our lives upside down.
We are told that it is possible for students to finish out their degrees here in Lakeland, but in a different location. However, no such location has been allocated or accounted for. It seems that if there is any displacement from this legislation then the students, staff, and faculty will become educational refugees with minimal thought for their wellbeing.
If the Legislature passes the separation plan, we hope Governor Scott vetoes it as soon as it hits his desk. Not only will it further burden the State University System financially, but signing this into law undermines the authority given to the Board of Governors by the Florida Constitution. A dangerous precedent like this could lead the state down a slippery slope that allows more legislation to cater to the individual whims and desires of Florida’s politicians.
Students are distraught over the fact that they are being rudely disregarded and forced to be collateral damage in this game of personal agendas. However, this will not stop us from doing everything we can to save our school, education, and future. ech