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DOG budget prompts howls of protest, vows of action from students; legislative reps fail to show

April 1, 2002

About 200 students assembled in the Clement Auditorium last Monday in a meeting that started at 6 p.m. and lasted until well after 10. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the impact of the "Downsizing Ongoing Government" effort-better known as the DOG budget.

Organized and led by the Student Government Association, the meeting was designed to inform students of the probable effects of the DOG budget on the University and to solicit their comments and suggestions for minimizing its bite.

Dr. Rich Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), credited Tennessee representatives for the DOG-created mess the state-and higher education-now finds itself in. "The state legislature is the only place this can be resolved," he said. "Higher education is just not the priority it should be [in this state]."

Dr. Allen Henderson, associate professor and chair of the music department, which stands to lose the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts if the budget is passed, reminded students that of the importance of "availing ourselves of the right and the duty of making our opinions known to our legislatures."

Dr. Ted Jones, associate professor in communication and theatre, read statements from three first-year faculty members. All expressed sadness, anger and betrayal, not only with legislators but also with Austin Peay administrators. "They have put us in a situation of unbearable uncertainty," one said. Complaining about administration's failure to seek input from departments before announcing it would be unable to sign retention contracts for 24 first-year faculty members, one said, "They asked us to abide by the rules. But they've broken them. I feel devalued by administration."

SGA members, however, seemed to hold a decidedly pro-administration view. When one student's comments seemed to suggest anger with Austin Peay officials, spokesperson Briana Smith quickly stepped to the microphone and to their defense. "Please understand," she said. "The people on the stage are on our side. They want to help us." The student then clarified that her anger was directed at the state, not at administrators.

One of the departments most hurt by the predicted cuts would be chemistry, which would not only lose three first-year faculty members but its certification by the American Chemistry Society as well, according to John Hall, a chemistry major and president of the chemistry club. "Then we'll lose federal money," he said.

Hall also reminded listeners that members of the general public might have difficulty feeling the University's pain. "They look at our new student center and new science building and say 'What's the problem?' They don't understand that the contract for the science building goes back to 1968, and that the new center was constructed with student funds."

Sen. Rosalind Kurita, Rep. Tommy Head, Rep. Kim McMillan and Gov. Don Sundquist were invited to attend the meeting. All declined, but several sent statements.

Head said he supports a state income tax.

Kurita voiced support for the cigarette excise tax, which would create $16 million for education.

Sundquist, who also supports a state income tax, applauded students for the gathering and for their concern and lamented the state's financial condition. "Tennessee is already years behind. We can't afford to continue to ignore the problems," he said.

Mayor Johnny Piper was among the last to speak from the podium. He criticized Sundquist's belated concern, saying the governor should have taken action years earlier. "This funding shortfall should not be," he said. Likening the state's condition to that of the city three years ago, he said, "There comes a time when you have to raise revenue.

"When you're 49th in the nation in education, something is wrong. There comes a time for leaders to stand up and stop protecting their base, or you and me and our grandchildren will pay the price."

Piper challenged everyone in the room to contact McMillan, Kurita and Head and "tell them you support higher education."