MIAMI (CBS4) – The Greek philosopher Diogenes Laertius said, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”

Eighteen centuries later, administrators and students on state university campuses across Florida fear a jackhammer is about to be taken to our foundation.

The budget passed out of the Florida Senate last week slashes state funding to the eleven public universities by $400 million.  Florida International University would lose $55 million.  Florida Atlantic University would take a $47 million hit.  The cuts average about one third overall.

“It translates into closing campuses,” said FAU President Mary Jane Saunders in an interview with CBS4’s Gary Nelson on Tuesday.  “It would mean limiting admissions.  It would mean layoffs.”

Saunders has called on the South Florida community to speak up before the budget is finalized in conference committee, perhaps as early as this week.

“University graduates stay in their communities, are productive citizens and contribute to the turnaround of a recession,” Saunders said.  “If we want to get out of this recession, if we want to create jobs, then the best investment is in higher education.”

Saunders said FAU contributes $4 billion dollars annually to the state’s economy, and that lawmakers are threatening to kill a golden goose.

The budget as proposed by the Senate would require the elimination of some programs of study on campuses that have already seen five consecutive years of reductions.

“Classes are going to get cut even more than they are,” said FAU student Tiffany Shields.  “As biology major that really worries me, because classes are already getting cut.”

The House version of the budget cuts funding by about half the amount of the Senate plan, but makes up the difference with a 15 percent tuition increase.  The House alternative leaves some students feeling only the rich will be able to pursue a college degree.

“Going to medical school is already expensive as it is,” said student Rafael Sturm.  “Being raised even more, it’s kind of hard to consider going to school in Florida.”

Legislative leaders have called the cuts in this year’s budget a “one time” raid on University funds.  FAU’s Saunders doesn’t believe it.

“The university system has been cut continually since 2007,” Saunders said.  “It has never been replaced.”

Saunders says the argument that times are tough and every belt must be tightened is a short-sighted one.

“Penny wise and pound foolish,” she said.


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