Student-run group continues fight against budget cuts

Diego Cruz

A student-led group continues to organize on behalf of higher University funding even after many students, faculty and staff have resigned themselves to nearly $100 million in legislative budget cuts.

The Students Speak, a decentralized student-formed group, gives a voice to students who protest against the budget cuts affecting their education, said Mexican-American studies senior Bernardino Lucian Villaseñor.

“We’ve been against all budget cuts on campus because we don’t have to take this,” Villaseñor said. “The Legislature has continued to reduce our funding, and students are the ones who have to pay the costs with higher tuition.”

The group first met last fall after finding out the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee of the College of Liberal Arts recommended large budget cuts to ethnic and identity studies programs without seeking student feedback, Villaseñor said.

He said the group has not met over the summer but will reorganize in the fall. Villaseñor said students have been watching the administration over the summer after many received financial aid packages as much $1,000 smaller than they expected.

The Students Speak organized a rally and protest on campus last December as well as a march to Capitol in March, said member and computer sciences senior Ruben Fitch.

“I do sincerely believe that the budget cuts can be reversed. It will just take sustained creative organizing on a scale much larger than we’ve currently been able to accomplish,” Fitch said.

Women’s and gender studies senior Teri Adams began attending group meetings shortly after its creation to speak out against cuts to the Women’s and Gender Studies Center.

The group chose to remain independent from the University in order to freely oppose the legitimacy of budget cuts without being subject to guidelines and regulations normally followed by student groups, Adams said. After the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee’s initial recommendations, liberal arts administrators and President William Powers Jr. adjusted the plan and reduced cuts to several centers, including the centers for Mexican-American and African-American Studies.

“Students have traditionally been on the vanguard of social change movements, so we have a really important role to play in arming ourselves with the ideas necessary to interpret the information of what’s going on out there,” she said.

As a mother of two with a part-time job and six years at UT, Adams said the current model was not financially viable for many students who have other responsibilities outside of their studies.

She said the UT System Board of Regents caused many of the problems but were unaccountable to students because Gov. Rick Perry appoints the board.

“I don’t feel like they’re at all in touch with the reality of people’s and students’ lives, and yet they have ultimate power over us,” Adams said.

Printed on Thursday, August 11, 2011 as: The Students Speak organizes, prepares agenda for next year