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University students mobilizing against budget cuts

| Wednesday, March 23, 2011

California University of Pennsylvania professor Rick Cumings is a Republican. He's the adviser for the College Republicans on campus. And he voted for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November.

But Cumings, public relations chairman for Cal U's chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, can't wrap his head around the extensive cuts to higher education that Corbett proposed in his budget.

"We need to cut government," Cumings said after a campus rally on Tuesday protesting the proposed cuts. "How he chose to go about it is what I will disagree with. I was kind of surprised he didn't cut across the board."

The association held rallies on 13 of the 14 campuses that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Kutztown University held its rally last week.

The union representing faculty and coaches -- which on Monday agreed in principle to a wage freeze for one year -- said the rallies were a way to get students' voices heard in the debate. They asked students to fill out postcards with messages on how the budget cuts will impact them, which the union will send to students' legislators.

Corbett proposed cutting the higher education budget by about 50 percent. State-system schools would share a $232 million appropriation under his budget, which is $2.5 million less than they received in 1983-84, when the system was created.

The union said tuition would have to increase by 33 percent, or about $1,000 a semester, to close the gap.

"If we don't stand together, we will be underfunded -- and underfunding means failure for all of us," Michael Slavin, the faculty union president at Cal U told a crowd of about 200 at the rally.

More than 100 Pitt student leaders gathered last night at the William Pitt Union to develop a strategy to fight the proposed cuts.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who attended at the request of the student government, urged them to get involved.

"These cuts are deep, disproportionate and damaging," he said. "No one can communicate more effectively than you can on what it means to you as a student and the impact it may have on your family."

Students are planning a letter-writing campaign from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at the William Pitt Union. A rally is planned for noon March 30, and student leaders are hoping to fill eight buses with students to go to Harrisburg on April 5 to lobby legislators.

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