Cuts to USF would carry heavy toll for bay area

The University of South Florida is the state's largest urban university. It is a key driver of the Tampa Bay region's economy with a $3.7 billion annual economic impact, and it is an essential health care provider to thousands of Floridians. And next month it will open the world's most important center for training medical teams for the future of health care, CAMLS, in downtown Tampa.

Our university has made great strides to distinguish itself on a national and international scale as innovative and inventive, remarkably ranking ninth in the world among universities awarded new U.S. patents.

Yet the Florida Senate Budget Committee has proposed a devastating budget cut that will undo six decades of progress in building a world-class university that has served the residents of the Tampa Bay region and state taxpayers very well.

The proposed slashing of USF's academic budget in the upcoming fiscal year will cause irreparable harm to the students, to the university and to the economic recovery that has begun in Tampa Bay.

The starkest example of this blatant inequity is this: Under Sen. JD Alexander's proposed budget, a University of Florida student would be supported by $5,470 in state funding for his or her education; a USF student would have less than half as much spent, just over $2,400.

The inequity flies in the face of the underlying philosophy of public education funding in Florida, which has been guided by the principle that all students deserve a quality education, regardless of geography or institution.

Furthermore, USF Health would suffer a $6 million cut that ends funding for our new pharmacy program, already lauded nationally as a transformational force in American health care. The 50 pharmacy students in their first year are worried about what happens to them. We don't want to lose them.

With its $3.7 billion annual economic impact to Tampa Bay, USF is one of the primary economic engines for the region. The university is the third largest employer in Hillsborough County. Its employees and their families eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores. Its research supports local businesses and creates spin-offs that attract biotech firms.

USF exists to educate students and to conduct research that will help solve terrible problems and cure devastating diseases. The university exists to help fuel Florida's economy, and it brings added value by building partnerships with organizations and businesses that create high-tech, high-paying jobs here.

One in five USF students is the first in their family to go to college. USF ranks fourth in the nation in the number of students who rely on federal Pell Grants to fund their education. When one of these students graduates with a USF degree, their entire family's economic future changes for the better.

Make no mistake about who is getting hurt here.

Your children may have graduated from USF or hope to attend one day. A USF physician might have saved someone in your family's life or delivered your baby. You might have enrolled in a new degree program to upgrade your skills and knowledge after a layoff. You might own a business that depends on some of UFS's 47,000 students or looks to hire some of the 10,000 new graduates produced each year.

But even if you have no obvious connection to the university, it is part of building the future of Florida as a vibrant and resilient place to live and work. That future is now under assault.

Every student who has walked across the USF stage to collect a diploma has had a hand in its remarkable growth as an institution. Their degrees have grown in value as USF's reputation for excellence has reached new heights.

Every USF faculty member and researcher who has played a part in creating world-class academic offerings and research capabilities has contributed to building the university's national reputation. And every USF physician who delivers medical care demonstrates on a daily basis that a university has the power to touch and transform lives.

As the father of two young children, more than anything I want them to be able to return here someday to a job that warrants the education my wife and I will give them. The jobs being created out of the research taking place at USF offers us an opportunity to change Tampa's economic DNA. That work must continue.

USF has been built by many hands. Don't let it be dismantled by just a few.

Bob Buckhorn is mayor of Tampa. He is married to Dr. Catherine Lynch, who is associate vice president for Women's Health, professor and director of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at the USF College of Medicine.

Cuts to USF would carry heavy toll for bay area 02/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 3:31am]

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