University leaders unite to protest proposed cuts

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) âÄî Ten of Florida’s 11 public university presidents converged Thursday on the Capitol to protest budget cuts they fear could ruin the state’s higher education standing. They said in the worst possible case, the proposed cuts would force them to shut down a number of programs and further stifle the state’s lagging economy. The House of Representatives is considering an estimated half billion dollars in cutbacks from the universities’ budgets in the fiscal year starting July 1. The Senate version would lop away about half that much, although both chambers would replace at least some of those dollars through tuition increases. The president of Florida International University in Miami, Mitch Maidique, said if the worst budget scenario develops it would be a virtual Armageddon for the State University System that employs 45,000 statewide. “It takes generations to build universities, but they can be destroyed in a very short time,” Maidique said during a news conference. The presidents also met briefly with Gov. Charlie Crist and said he was very supportive of their effort to call attention to their budget concerns. The House proposal is more draconian, the presidents said. It has appropriated $4.1 billion for community colleges and universities. That’s a 4 percent cut and $459 million less than appropriated by the Senate, which would leave their budgets virtually unchanged from the current year. Both plans include base tuition increases âÄî 8 percent in the Senate and 7 percent in the House. Both also assume lawmakers will pass a bill letting state universities further ease tuition up to a total of 15 percent and that all 11 schools would approve the full amount. Frank Brogan, president of Florida Atlantic University, was the only one of the state’s public university presidents who missed the gathering. He was attending a funeral.