State Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales) is pushing for major budget cuts at USF that critics say could affect the entire Tampa Bay region.
10 News was the first TV station to shine the spotlight on JD Alexander's "bullying" last fall and many say severe cuts proposed to USF's budget are the retaliation they feared from the powerful senator last fall.
Now, 10 News is headed to Tallahassee to deliver your messages to state legislators. Want your voice heard? Send your one-page (or less) letter to email@example.com by the end of the day Tuesday.
The proposed cuts to USF, representing 58% of its state revenues, were drastically more than any of Florida's 10 other universities. This comes after Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, went to war with USF President Judy Genshaft over leadership at USF-Polytechnic in Lakeland.
But while USF students and alumni in Tampa Bay are only numbered in the hundreds of thousands, the "devastating" cuts Alexander is pushing would affect millions.
Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano wrote this morning "why you should care about USF Poly":
The University of South Florida - and by extension the Tampa Bay area - has been attacked by the Florida Senate. And that is not an embellished sentence.
(Alexander) has spit on the Board of Governors. Those silly people think they're in charge of the state university system. Alexander just told them to suck lemons.
He has also blown off his peers. No need for this issue to go through normal channels, Alexander is ramming it down the Legislature's throat.
Finally, he has brutalized USF. He didn't like being challenged on the Polytechnic issue, and so he has taken his spite and pettiness out on a bunch of college students.
As predicted by Michael Long, chairman of the Florida Student Association and member of the BOG, Alexander is stripping higher education of its funding after losing a battle of egos.
WATCH: Michael Long stands up to JD Alexander
"(Alexander) told me," Long testified, "that he would quit fighting for higher education if he didn't get what he wanted on this issue."
The slashing of university budgets across the board will have a huge impact on the state's attempt to maintain world-class facilities, and thus, a huge impact on every Floridian.
State Senators Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who have run afoul of Senate leadership in recent years for breaking ranks with the GOP on key issues, released a joint statement condemning Alexander:
"We stand united in our opposition to the proposed cuts to the University of South Florida's funding for the next fiscal year. We also stand opposed to the attempt to split off the USF Lakeland campus to create a new state university. While this split is being used as a major argument to justify the cuts, we see it as nothing more than an unconscionable push to force an issue that neither the university nor the students want.
"We call upon leadership in the Senate to see this blatant and outrageous move to hurt the University for what it is. It is our hope that the Senate president will step in and put a stop to this abuse of the legislative process. The University of South Florida has been singled out from all other universities in the state for cuts that will devastate this fine school. All institutions of higher learning understand that budget cuts may happen in this tight fiscal year, but all should be treated fairly. This proposal is anything but fair. It is politics pure and simple."
The Times editorial board blasted Alexander and Tallahassee cronyism on its opinion page Tuesday:
This is the sort of political interference that gives Florida's universities a bad name. It makes it harder to recruit top-level faculty, and it makes it harder to recruit the best out-of-state students who pay higher tuition and add diversity.
The debate should be about how much to invest in higher education and compete with North Carolina and other states that have made that financial commitment. Instead the focus is on one powerful senator's obsession to create a new university and how far he will go to get his way.
The Tampa Tribune opinion page echoed the sentiment:
Of course, what's best for students, faculty or taxpayers has never been a concern in Alexander's drive to run Polytechnic as a personal fiefdom.
Tribune columnist Joe Henderson spoke to future House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who didn't stick his own neck out for USF, but promised cuts would be more fair than the Senate proposed:
"The odds of that are slim and none," Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, speaker-designate of the Florida House of Representatives, told me Monday. "The good news is, we're a bicameral process in Florida. Both the House and the Senate have to agree."
Times columnist Daniel Ruth's Tuesday morning story took a sarcastic tone in describing Alexander's snub of the BOG's decisions on USF-Poly:
Imagine the gall of it all. People who actually understand how universities work had the gumption to tell the Boss Hogg of Polk County that his idea was bad.
Previous USF Poly Coverage:
2/14/12 - USF fears "devastating" 58% budget cuts
2/8/12 - JD Alexander pushes "backdoor" path for USF Poly independence
12/22/11 - Barbs traded over Genshaft's handling of USF Poly handling
12/20/11 - Genshaft dismisses USF Poly chancellor
11/10/11 - BOG grants USF Poly conditional independence
11/7/11 - USF Poly spends thousands on Star Wars statues
11/3/11 - JD Alexander's bully pulpit
10/31/11 - Polk leaders vote for USF Poly independence
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