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Standing next to the Testudo statue near McKeldin Library, students made their message loud and clear: “Keep higher ed. affordable” and “Back to Annapolis,” they chanted.
They were referring to a budget the state General Assembly passed last Monday that cut funding to the University System of Maryland by about $50 million and could lead to a 10 percent tuition increase. Dozens of student activists and leaders rallied yesterday outside the library to voice their frustration with state lawmakers.
“We want to show Annapolis that we’re not just going to take it,” MaryPIRG chapter President David Bransfield said at the rally. “The good news is that there is a solution to this problem. Governor [Martin] O’Malley needs to call a special session.”
On the last day of the legislative session, state lawmakers passed a budget that doesn’t incorporate any new revenue-generating measures. To reverse the cuts, O’Malley would have to call a special session, giving lawmakers a chance to reconvene and vote on a budget that would offset cuts.
To urge lawmakers to remedy what has become known as the “doomsday budget,” some students shared their own stories at the rally, describing their fears of a double-digit tuition hike.
Rosa Abraha, a sophomore public health and women’s studies major, said the proposed increases in tuition, which could total about $865 for in-state undergraduates, would place heavy financial stress on her family just months after losing her father to pancreatic cancer.
“The only thing that my parents ever asked for me was to go to college,” she said. “Some say it’s only $800, but $800 means 800 new doubts, 800 new uncertainties, 800 new concerns, 800 greater fears that I may be not be able to fulfill my father’s dream here at the University of Maryland.”
Sophomore government and politics major Samantha Durdock said the added expense would inhibit students’ ability to study abroad, take unpaid internships and partake in other opportunities outside the classroom.
“I’m all for refining and balancing the state’s budget, but not at the expense of students,” she said.
O’Malley has yet to call for the special session. O’Malley spokeswoman Takirra Winfield said the governor wants lawmakers to be in agreement on the budget before they reconvene, despite his disappointment with cuts to higher education.
“He’s waiting for there to be a consensus between the presiding officers just to make sure we’re not in the same position that we were in on Sine Die,” she said. “The last thing he wants to see is our students suffering from a lack of consensus.”
Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery) apologized at the rally for the state legislature’s failure to avoid the cuts to higher education.
“We used to look at higher education as a public good,” he said. “Now we look at higher education as a private luxury, something that only helps those fortunate enough to be here.”
He added students should contact their representatives and push for a special session as an investment in the state and country’s future.
“We’ve got to come up with a plan that is affordable and smart moving forward,” he added. “This is the linchpin of the future of our country.”
Yesterday, Student Government Association President Kaiyi Xie sent out a campus-wide email urging students to attend the rally and contact their legislators to detail their concerns about the cuts.
Xie mentioned ways students could organize their efforts to show opposition to the expected tuition hikes, including contacting state lawmakers through the university system’s office of government relations’ website and donating dining points to students struggling to pay their bills through the Keep Me Maryland program.
“I think that students should continue to stay engaged on the issue,” he said. “I feel the biggest threat that faces us is a lack of awareness and knowledge.”
Some students who attended the event said funding for higher education should be a priority, not at the top of the list for cuts.
“Why is it that education is always cut?” junior Arabic and government and politics major Rachel Mayer said. “The economy goes up and down all the time; sometimes it’s worse than others, but I think we need to focus on the future and not immediate financial needs.”
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