By MARY JANE SAUNDERS
If ever there were a time for the people of South Florida to rally behind Florida Atlantic University, this is it.
In just a few days, the Florida Senate will consider a bill that seeks to strip $400 million out of the State University System, including $47 million from FAU - one-third of the university's annual state subsidy budget. Most of the "carry forward" that FAU has on its books is committed legislatively to ongoing projects or required to meet fiscal regulations. Cuts at that level will not be merely difficult to deal with - they will be disastrous, leading to the financial crippling of Florida's 11 fine public universities, which are absolutely essential to the state's economic well-being.
FAU has just finished celebrating its 50th anniversary year. Over the course of that half-century, it has grown into a major pillar of support for South Floridians, awarding degrees to more than 125,000 men and women, annually contributing tens of thousands of student and faculty volunteer hours to nonprofit organizations and conducting highly productive, advanced research in biomedicine, biotechnology, ocean engineering and a host of other important areas.
In fulfillment of its promise to put a university education within the reach of everyone in South Florida who has the desire and the ability to earn a four-year degree, FAU has established campuses and specialized sites in seven locations stretching along the Florida coastline from Dania Beach to Fort Pierce. Last fall, a record-high 29,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at FAU, including the superbly qualified 64-member founding class of the university's new Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. That much-needed medical education initiative attracted tremendous support as more than 250 local physicians signed on as lecturers and mentors and five leading area hospitals formed a consortium to provide our students with all-important residencies.
A study released late last year shows that FAU contributes $4 billion to the economy of its six-county service region, and that figure promises to grow as our medical school continues its development and our new football stadium becomes an active hub of sports activities. By every measure, FAU is poised to advance to a whole new level of service, contributing to the strong educational infrastructure that is needed for Florida to make the critically important transition from an economy reliant on agriculture and tourism to one based on the industries that are emerging from 21st-century technologies. But FAU's growth - and the growth of our entire economy - will be stopped in its tracks if the Senate moves forward with its shortsighted, destructive and ultimately self-defeating slashing of the higher education budget.
FAU urgently needs your help. Please contact your state legislators today by email or telephone and let them know in the strongest possible terms that FAU is a valued component of this community and must have adequate funding to keep providing essential services. To identify and contact your state senator, go to http://flsenate.gov/senators/find.
While the Florida House is considering a much less drastic bill that calls for $5.7 million in cuts to FAU, you can make your support of the university known to them as well by going to http://myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/representatives.aspx.
Should the Senate bill prevail, here's the worst-case scenario: the complete elimination of some degree programs, the closing of some campuses, cancellation of the summer semester and more layoffs, all against the backdrop of ongoing tuition increases. Please don't let our university, our community and our state be damaged in this way. Please raise your voice to demand adequate funding for higher education in Florida.Mary Jane Saunders is president of Florida Atlantic University.