1,000 AZ Students Protest Education Budget Cuts
RENÉE SCHAFER HORTON
The University of Arizona Mall was packed Tuesday with chanting students protesting budget options floated by legislative leaders that would cut the state's higher education budget by 40 percent by June 30.
Dressed in black and hoisting signs that read "Inve$t in Arizona" and "RIP Higher Education," hundreds of students and a smattering of UA professors and staff chanted, "Legislators have got to know, these budget cuts have got to go!"
University police estimated the crowd at about 1,000.
Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made public last week budget options addressing the nearly $1.6 billion state budget shortfall.
They also included options to deal with the 2010 fiscal year budget, which begins July 1, when an even greater revenue gap is anticipated.
Key to university students, faculty and staff were proposals to cut about $243 million from the state's three universities before June 30 and an additional cut of $388 million for 2010.
The hit to UA this year would be $103 million, or one-quarter of its state allocation of $412 million.
"Budget cuts of this magnitude would mangle our university beyond recognition," Student Body President Tommy Bruce told the crowd. "This is the most shortsighted, illogical budget proposal in our history."
Bruce and other student leaders said legislators need to understand that vibrant universities are key to solving the state's budget issues.
"We are not the problem, we are the solution," Bruce said.
Associate Professor Laura Briggs, head of UA's Women's Studies Department, quoted Arizona State University President Michael Crow telling Pearce and Kavanagh last week that their proposal "is a recipe for turning Arizona into a Third World country."
"This is not the future we want, where half our departments are closed and thousands of state employees are laid off," Briggs said to cheers.
The students also collected signatures and handed out information about contacting state senators and representatives to encourage them to come up with a "responsible" higher education budget.
The signatures will be delivered Jan. 28, when students from UA, Northern Arizona University and ASU go to the Capitol in hopes of meeting with legislative leaders.
"I don't think Sen. Pearce will meet with us," said Alison Betts, chief of staff for the Graduate and Professional Student Council. "He's been very resistive to talks about the budget and resistive to education in general. But we're trying to set up meetings and we will deliver the signatures."
David Pierce, a sophomore physiology major, said the proposed cuts were "beyond belief."
"It's hard enough to get signed up for classes as it is and a 40 percent cut would make it impossible," he said. "I guess it's time to become a New Mexico Lobo."
I thought it was a pretty good protest and a great turnout for college kids. My school bused hundreds of kids in and we drove like two hours to get there, but what was sad was that there weren't so many ASU students and it was a protest in Phoenix. We did a very short march to the capitol building, there were cops on the roof and on bikes, and my school gave all the protesters Crustables which are like PB and J sandwich pies. Those were okay. The music was odd. There was like two songs that fit in with a protest environment and then they played stuff like Maroon 6, that Superman that ho song, and Rihanna. Right after we left, the Governor called in a special session to push the same proposal we were protesting against so the protest coordinators on our bus gave us the phone number of Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. Russel Pearce to call them to bitch. I informed Russel Pearce's message machine that I would actively work against him and that he had made a great enemy that day.
Source and the picture is one I took with my cellphone.