Hundreds of University of Connecticut students, faculty and supporters rallied outside the Hartford Legislative Office Building Friday afternoon to protest $309 million cut to the university proposed in the state budget.
“Please do not be silent, please continue to support UConn,” Undergraduate Student Government President, Irma Valverde, said.
Mansfield State Representative, and UConn class of 1989 graduate, Greg Haddad, spoke of the shock he experienced when the Republican-backed budget passed last weekend.
“I was astonished that I had to stand up on the floor of the house against the most draconian cuts ever proposed for the University of Connecticut,” Haddad said.
The Republican budget narrowly passed in the state Senate last Friday and was approved by the House of Representatives the following Saturday.
State Senator Mae Flexer said she was proud of UConn Nation’s response to the budget.
“I am so proud of how strong our voices have been this past week defending the University of Connecticut and saying no to the draconian cuts that every Republican legislator voted for,” Flexer said.
Flexer said she was able to attend college because UConn was an affordable option for her and her sister.
“It’s hard to understand how (other legislators) could have voted for a budget (that) denies college education to kids who grew up in a family like the family I grew up in,” Flexer said.
Todd Vachon, a member of the UConn Graduate Employee Union (GEU), stressed the importance of higher education in our current society.
“We’re living in a time of alternative facts and climate change denial. This is not the time to be cutting education, this is the time to be increasing education, now more than ever,” Vachon said.
Steven Manicastri, the president of the UConn GEU, and one of the principle organizers of the rally, emphasized the impact of the budget on the people of Connecticut.
“By making such cuts, this state’s legislature does not serve the people of this state. We need a budget that serves the people of Connecticut,” Manicastri said. “Public education is, and always will be, an investment any rational government should make.”
Manicastri said graduate students’ role at the university will be seriously compromised if the budget is put in effect.
“We are proud of the role we play at UConn providing face-to-face teaching that makes an affordable, quality education possible for the children of Connecticut’s working families and carrying out research that brings tens of millions of dollars into our state’s economy,” Manicastri said. “We cannot, however, excel at either under this budget that represents the misplaced priorities of the one percent.”
Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Beth Bye, shared how UConn Health saved the life of a loved one.
“The policy is important, but this is personal. A year ago, I did not think my wife would be here today because she’s been sick with cancer. She’s alive today because of UConn,” Bye said.
“This is not all dollars and cents. We want to be a state of innovation, a state that saves lives, a state that is there for our citizens. I want the next person who has her diagnosis today to have her care next year,” Bye said.
Kevin Claffey, the president of UConn Health AAUP, said the cuts would take away access to health care from thousands of patients who depend upon it each year.
“UConn Health is vital to support those patients who have no other option in the state of Connecticut,” Claffey said. “We are fearful that our mission to provide key medical and dental care will be impacted by the proposed budget cuts.”
Bill Garrity, the president of UConn Health Professionals, emphasized the impact the cuts would have on state employees like himself.
“Do not attack the state employees who have worked their adult lives to provide for their families.” Garrity said, “This budget or anything like it, will tear apart this university and what it has built over the years. It will decimate UConn nation and hurt the economies (of the towns) where we all live. All of us deserve better than this.”
Mike White, the president of UConn Professional Employees Association, talked about the significant economic contributions the university makes to the state.
“We cannot rip away one of the largest economic drivers in the state, it all needs to stop,” White said. “For the good of three million people in this state, we need to find a different path to a successful budget.”
After the conclusion of the rally, those gathered flocked to fill the halls of the Legislative Office Building to lobby their legislators.
Tom Bontly, the president of UConn Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, urged legislators to spare UConn from the devastating cuts in his speech at the rally.
“What does this budget do? It torpedoes Connecticut’s flagship university,” Bontly said. “Please do not let your great state university become a casualty of partisan warfare.”
Those who gathered wrote petitions to their legislators who voted for the budget.
“I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if these budget cuts happen and I just sat back and didn’t do anything,” Daniel Connolly, a third-semester communications major said. “I hope Gov. Malloy vetoes it, but the Republicans and Democrats who voted for it need to understand these cuts aren’t acceptable and we won’t sit back and take it.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy has pledged to veto the budget but is still engaging in discussions with the Legislature.
Manicastri said, while he hopes the rally will change the course of the budget, if it does not, legislators may have to face the consequences of a dissatisfied constituency.
“2018 is close by and we’ll remember who voted for this budget,” Manicastri said. “Our union members are from all over Connecticut, our voting power is broad and wide.”
Several students from the UConn School of Fine Arts came to Hartford to express their opposition to cuts that would endanger their education.
“The budget cuts would ruin my future doing the only thing I can see myself doing,” Cassie Caron, a first-semester music education major, said with tears in her eyes. “Without higher education and the ability to pursue the things they love to do, (legislators) would not be in the seats they’re in.”
Many students at the rally were concerned with what the, possibly significant, increases to tuition could mean for their education.
“The budget is important to me. (If the cuts go through) I probably won’t be able to afford college,” Brian Thomas, a first-semester biomedical engineering major said. “For a lot of us, this is the first time local politics has been like ‘hey this is a big deal, we need to worry about this’.”
Faculty who attended the rally and lobbying session shared these concerns.
“(Gov.) Malloy said he’s going to veto it, but that’s not the point, we’re here to show solidarity between all the campuses, and (I hope that) the legislature will listen to us for once,” Eric Rosario, the Administrative Manager in the Bursar’s office, said.
“I see the difficulties students face and these cuts would make it worse,” Assistant Dean of Students, Paula Wilmot said.
State lawmakers must approve a budget by the Oct. 1 deadline or an executive order previously signed by Gov. Malloy, which cuts aid to hundreds of local schools, will go into effect. Connecticut has not had a budget for 84 days as of Friday.
“One thing I want to remind everyone is to please make sure your voices are heard, share your story with your state legislators, and if they’re not going to listen, vote them out,” Valverde said in her concluding remarks at the rally. “I will not stop fighting until this university gets what it deserves.”