Last week more than 150 graduate employees, undergraduates, faculty members and community leaders from the University of Florida, University of South Florida and Florida State University gathered on the steps of Tigert Hall in Gainesville to call for a statewide end to graduate employee fees. At the rally, graduate assistants gave harrowing testimonials about the economic hardship caused by employee fees and signed a letter calling on our university presidents and the chancellor of the Board of Governors, Marshall Criser, to work with graduate assistants to end these fees.
Although much has been made of USF's status as a "Research One" university and its mission to gain membership in the Association of American Universities, there has been little discussion of the role graduate assistants play in support of that goal. Research and teaching at USF begins with graduate employees, who either instruct or assist over half of all courses and work on an overwhelming majority of research grants. If USF intends to remain competitive with other AAU institutions by awarding research doctorates, then it should behave in ways that are consistent with its AAU peers by eliminating graduate employee fees. For example, graduate employees at the University of California, Irvine (an institution identified by USF as an AAU peer) pay no fees whatsoever.
This month at USF, more than 2,000 graduate employees will scrape the bottom of their checking accounts or charge their high-interest credit cards to pay their university fees, which can run over $2,000 a year. The average Ph.D. student at USF earns a meager $7,000 per semester and will pay an average of $800 in fees, accounting for roughly 12 percent of her income. Because of fees, graduate assistants often take desperate measures just to make ends meet. In fact, many graduate students qualify for state food assistance. The situation is even worse for graduate employees with children or spouses, who receive no dependent health insurance through the university. Graduate employees with children are often forced to choose between paying fees or paying for child care.
Because graduate assistants are both students and employees, the psychological stress of fees can be distracting at a time when they need to focus on conducting field work, writing research reports, or collecting data in the laboratory. Commonly, because of employee fees, many graduate students miss precious opportunities to present their research at academic or professional conferences.
USF's graduate employees are talented and dedicated teachers, researchers, scientists and educators, and we do it all with love. It's time for USF to love us back and end graduate employee fees.
Joshua Guy Lenes, Tampa
Close door to drilling off Florida's coast March 17, editorial
There is much debate over the recent release of the government's final environmental impact statement that may allow seismic surveys in the mid and south Atlantic. Assertions that seismic surveys cause serious harm to marine life are simply not accurate. For 40 years, the industry has consistently demonstrated its ability to conduct seismic explorations in a manner that safeguards marine life. Environmental stewardship is an industry value and priority.
In 2012, the federal government itself acknowledged that our operations actually have minimal risks of danger for marine mammals. The National Marine Fisheries Service stated, "To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to airgun pulses, even in the case of large airgun arrays."
So, how does one account for the government's estimate of injury, or "takes," of marine mammals? The fact is this estimate in no way reflects an actual expectation that mammals will be injured. Instead, the government says that these estimates "are not expected levels of actual take." This is the highest-range estimate at which mammals may be exposed to seismic activity and does not consider the role of mitigation in reducing risk of injury. In fact, with successful mitigation the government acknowledges that all estimates of injury would be avoided.
While there are examples of some mammals avoiding our sounds, there are also observations of them not avoiding us, such as bow-riding dolphins. Some mammals, particularly dolphins, have functional hearing ranges well above the frequency of most of our sounds and appear not to be affected or "hear" them. Nevertheless, we take steps to ensure mammals are not nearby when we start up operation and shut down when they are too close.
There are many unanswered questions on behavioral effects of seismic operations on marine mammals. Because of that, we help fund research to fill knowledge gaps to better understand how avoidance affects marine mammals, fish and other animals.
The government is considering the use of seismic surveys because they are the only feasible technology available to accurately image the subsurface. Seismic surveys do not necessarily lead to drilling. That is policy decision and should be made based on the best possible information. Right now we don't have that. The last surveys of the Atlantic were conducted more than 30 years ago.
Modern seismic surveys reduce safety and environmental risks and should be considered the preferred environmental management tool to prevent drilling "dry holes."
Chip Gill, president, International Association of Geophysical Contractors, Houston
Russia takes back Crimea | March 19
Sanity, not belligerence
The current Ukrainian situation presents tough choices for President Barack Obama and, unfortunately, political considerations may overwhelm logic in Washington.
The Crimean portion of the Ukraine has long been largely populated by those who see themselves as Russian and have ended up on the wrong side of the border. Although I am sure the recent referendum was rigged by Moscow, there are few who doubt that a substantial majority sees themselves as Russian.
So what is Washington to do? I suggest that we provide significant economic support to Ukraine and encourage its politicians to construct parties and movements that integrate Russian groups.
Secondly, Obama should not push Europe to economically punish Moscow with sanctions. These are not going to be effective and will just convince the Russian people that the world is their enemy. Help them realize that the problem is their current leadership — not foreigners.
Unfortunately the Republicans seem to want to make political hay out of any action by Obama that isn't significantly harsh regardless of how ineffective it may be. Unfortunately many of the Democrats in Congress may also want to appear "manly" and face down the Russian monster. The administration is going have to find some effective rhetoric to convince the public that sanity can trump empty and dangerous belligerence.
Michael Francis, Homosassa
Sinkhole legal bills costly for Citizens March 18
A legal fee fleecing
After reading this article, I can certainly understand why it was necessary for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to increase my renewal premium by 11.2 percent for the coming year. Here I figured this increase was in retaliation for my declining to accept coverage from an undercapitalized and understaffed Florida-based start-up company they are pushing; but now I understand it is because they need the money for payment of legal fees to avoid paying legitimate claims.
Larry Geiger, St. Petersburg
Legalize medical pot for seizures March 18, editorial
Chance for a normal life
Thank you for this editorial. Our daughter is one of the estimated 125,000 children in Florida who has come to the end of her pharmaceutical rope. Educating the public about the benefits of Charlotte's Web, a strain of marijuana that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is imperative. Charlotte's Web, while extracted from the marijuana plant, is not smoked or injected with a needle. This strain isn't for recreational use or taken to simply feel good. Charlotte's Web is taken with a hope for a normal life, one that doesn't include continual tremors, missed birthday parties, emergency rooms or the fear that the things that normal kids experience will never happen.
This medication is typically administered in liquid or capsule form. For children with epilepsy, swallowing medication is a familiar routine.
While the parents of children who have seizures that cannot be controlled by medication live a daily nightmare, a worse nightmare would be to know there was hope, almost in our grasp, and then see it yanked away.
Mark and Connie Dierking, Palm Harbor
'Carmen' is a drama-filled good time March 16
Striking a sour note
This review of Opera Tampa's production of Carmen was appalling. First, the language. The opera is "stabby," Don Jose worries about "snoozy things," Micaela tries to save Don Jose from a "hot mess," and Carmen employs a "shruggy indifference like when you're fighting with someone and the person says, 'Just do what you think is right.' " Was this written for 13-year-olds?
Second, the article is spent almost entirely retelling the story of the opera. By my count there were four sentences that actually addressed the quality of the performers, and Escamillo, the toreador, wasn't mentioned although he sings what is probably the most famous aria in opera. Finally, there was nothing about the production, set or costumes.
Dennis Clarke, Tampa