UNF, Florida Student Association rally in Tallahassee

Katie Gile

By: Katie Gile, Staff Writer

University students and media across the state gathered on the Capitol's front steps to hear FSA Chair Michael Long speak. Photo by Katie Gile.

As CNN media personalities took over The Green for the GOP debate, UNF Student Government and a few concerned students traveled to Tallahassee Jan. 26 to have their voices heard at the Florida Student Association’s annual Rally in Tally.

Hundreds of students gathered to represent their peers within the 11 schools of the State University System and address issues pertinent to the universities’ student bodies.

Though the trip was a day-long event for UNF representatives, the rally itself was a formal 30-minute stint upon the front steps of the historic Capitol.

A proposed state constitutional amendment filed in the House – House Joint Resolution 931 – and Senate – Senate Joint Resolution 1508 – raised opposition from student participants. It would provide Gov. Rick Scott the power to appoint a student of his choosing to the Board of Governors, a seat currently held by the student-elected chairman of the FSA.

Michael Long, the current FSA Chair and New College student body President, said the bill aims to strip students of the democratic process of election as he addressed the crowd on the steps of the state capital.

“How will the governor be a better judge of a student leader and a student representative than a student leader themselves?” Long said. “Let us select our voice and let us speak for ourselves. We do not need you to speak for us.”

Matt Brockelman, UNF student body President, agreed the choice of a student leader shouldn’t be made by nonstudent officials.

“It’s as if we told UNF students that they couldn’t vote for their student leaders and just gave that power to [UNF] President Delaney,” Brockelman said. “Not saying that [nonstudent officials] have poor judgment, but that’s something that needs to be decided by students.”

A motion promoted by many Florida university presidents to increase the cost of in-state tuition by 15 percent until it reaches the national average caused another major point of contention.

Brockelman said Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s recent announcement expressing a desire to maintain tuition costs for the year may be a step in the right direction.

“I went back and calculated my student tuition and fees from my freshman year to this year, and it’s gone up almost 70 percent,” Brockelman said. “But we’ll see what the legislature decides to do.”

He said this motion would have added ramifications for UNF student representatives.

“We’re especially opposed to this at UNF because we just approved the [Academic Enhancement Fee] with the [UNF] Board of Trustees,” Brockelman said. “I just don’t think this is a year for a tuition increase.”

The third issue protested was another potential cut in Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship.

“$1 per credit hour [awarded by Bright Futures] is already going down while our costs are rising. It should really only be one or the other changing, not both,” Brockelman said.

Because the gap between what the scholarship covers and the cost of tuition is widening, further increases to the gap will leave graduating students with larger debts, Brockelman said.

Joel Versace, SG Elections Supervisor and Business Management senior, said the scholarship’s decrease is unfair to college student beneficiaries expecting the monetary support it currently provides.

“It was something they promised us, and it should’ve lasted at least four years,” Versace said.

Mitchell Haley, SG Senator and Psychology senior, said the interplay between a decrease in Bright Futures and an increase in tuition would be detrimental to statewide education.

“By restricting the budget, schools can’t expand and students can’t get in,” Haley said. “If tuition wasn’t increased, you wouldn’t need Bright Futures as much.”

Sergio Saabedra, SG Senator and Finance junior, said the two bills would harm students’ post-college career.

“It’s hitting the students from both sides,” Saabedra said. “The current situation is just cutting us off from opportunities because it’ll be too expensive.”

UNF representatives left the event early to attend the GOP debate in Jacksonville, which Brockelman said may have weakened the FSA effort slightly.

“Legislators said there have been a lot of successful meetings with students so far, though,” Brockelman said. “We have a good turnout this year, and I think we’re all pretty focused on why we’re here.”

Though student leaders meet with their respective legislators through the year, Brockelman said the significance of Rally in Tally lies in the spotlight it puts on every student affected by the legislation.

“It’s not about 10 student body presidents coming out here trying to stop these things, it’s about the entire student body of Florida trying to stop these things,” Brockelman said.

Lindsey Edwards, UNF Senate Pro Temp and Exceptional Student Education senior, said students must exercise their right to be heard.

“We’re allowed to come here and voice our opinions and fight legislation directly,” Edwards said. “It’s vital that we care and show that we care.”

 

Email Katie Gile at [email protected]

 

Check out this animated digital short created by two students in the Applied Journalism class at UNF.