Chattanooga: Faculty, students rally against UT cuts

Chattanooga: Faculty, students rally against UT cuts

March 27th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

Staff Photo by Dan Henry<br> George Helton, a professor at UTC's college of education, waves to cars passing by McCallie Ave. Thursday afternoon to raise awareness of budget cuts to higher education.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry<br> George Helton, a professor...

One hundred million dollars isn't enough to keep some UTC faculty and students from worrying about budget cuts.

More than two dozen faculty and students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga protested potential budget cuts in front of the downtown campus today.

Participants in the rally stood at the intersection of McCallie Avenue and Douglas Street, waving placards that read "Support Tennessee's Economy! Save Higher Education!"

The protest, organized by United Campus Workers, the union for UT faculty and staff, came on the heels of a Monday announcement that a $100 million infusion of federal stimulus money this year into Tennessee higher education would delay, not prevent, layoffs in the UT system.

"We're grateful the governor passed along some of the stimulus money, but people have been talking about there may be a need for really heavy cuts at the end of that time, when the money runs out," said Dr. George Helton, who teaches graduate-level education courses at UTC and is a member of United Campus Workers.

First, faculty want the Legislature to approve Gov. Phil Bredesen's budget, which allows the use of stimulus money for higher education. But Dr. Helton said faculty members still are worried about layoffs in two to three years once stimulus funds dry up.

"Certainly, we hope the economy improves by then, but if it doesn't, we want people to be aware of the importance of higher education," he said.

"I fear that academic programs might get cut" if the full brunt of funding cuts were felt, Dr. Helton said. "We're concerned we'll lose some really valuable programs."

Faculty members managed to draw out students in nearly equal numbers for the rally. Molly Cashion, a 21-year-old junior biology major with chemistry and French minors, said she was concerned that foreign language programs could be among the first to be gone if higher education's budget was slashed.

"Without foreign languages, you really wouldn't need any other department," Ms. Cashion said. "I hope people just think about higher education. Planting the seed in their minds is the first step to changing things."

The rally was not sponsored by UTC, but school spokesman Chuck Cantrell said its mission was one the school agreed with.

"Anything that can bring attention to the financial needs of higher education, that can make the public aware of its importance and to try to stem the cuts that higher education is facing is a good thing," Mr. Cantrell said.