Florida A&M students called on to advocate to state legislators

History was made on Florida A&M University’s campus last Thursday when three students, on behalf of the Student Government Association, spearheaded a march protesting budget cuts.

After the banners and buses are gone, how will FAMU make its presence felt in the legislature?

Calvin Hayes, Quintin Haynes and Iman Sandifer coordinated the event two weeks after learning that FAMU Day at the Capitol was cancelled due to a lack of funding.
“It is extremely important to lobby. The only way to battle against these things is to use the most powerful things you have, your voice,” said Hayes, who serves as student body vice president.

FAMU Day at the Capitol is traditionally recognized as an opportunity to showcase the university’s accomplishments and contributions to the state of Florida. Supporters see it is as chance to advocate on behalf of the university. This year, FAMU is trying to avoid budget cuts and at the same time seeking $1.5 million for a new college of dentistry.

President James Ammons highlighted the impact of these cuts in his Feb. 15 State of the University Address.

“These are permanent cuts and will not be restored in the foreseeable future,” said Ammons. “This means that although we have made across the board cuts in the past and retained almost all of our employees, we cannot continue to keep our entire workforce intact.”

Students are criticizing Tola Thompson, director of government relations, for not having FAMU Day at the Capitol.

“He’s not doing his job because students don’t know what lobbying is. To do it occasionally isn’t enough,” said Tunji Fadiora, 20, a third-year biological and agricultural systems engineering student from Tallahassee. “People treated the march as more of a celebration.

It was happy-go-lucky and I feel like the structure could have been more serious.”

Thompson coordinates lobbying at the local, state and national levels. He said the event was not cancelled, but never planned for 2009-2010 school year.

“It was never scheduled,” Thompson said. “We made that decision back in June based on budget cuts.”

Thompson said the university has bigger priorities than the annual event.

“We raise money for scholarships and more important things than the reception. We’ve found other ways to lobby,” he said. “We may bring it back, but we’re going through some difficult budget times right now. We’re going to be in this situation for a while.”

Former FAMU student body president Larry Rivers said students should take a more active role in the legislative process.

“It’s about time that somebody steps up. Marching to the Capitol is great, but we need to get involved with reform,” said Rivers, who served during the 2003-2004 school year. “If we don’t have more money from taxes, we’re going to face more severe budget cuts. This could really hurt FAMU.”

FAMU faces $26 million in budget cuts for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. According to Ammons’ February address, “If the legislature cuts higher education by 10 percent, this means another $8.9 million in permanent cuts from our budget. A 15 percent cut would result in approximately a $13.4 million reduction from our budget. Implementing either one of these cuts and the University will operate at funding levels that are at least at the lowest point in over a decade.”