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Thousands of students protest proposed university budget cuts

Cathleen McCarthy, a University of Arizona student, listens during a news conference presented by the presidents of UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Cathleen McCarthy, a University of Arizona student, listens during a news conference presented by the presidents of UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Where is the funding?

A not-so-polite acronym with the same first letters as those words – WTF – was used by a University of Arizona student leader at a protest Wednesday.

Tommy Bruce, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, was among 2,000 students who attended a rally at the state Capitol.

Their hope: To influence state legislators who are considering large funding cuts to the state’s three universities in an effort to balance a state budget that is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.

UA graduate student Lucy Blaney said that by noon the crowd at Wesley Bolin Memorial Park in Phoenix had been “getting bigger and bigger, maybe close to 2,500 people.” About half of them were thought to have come from Tucson, a UA spokesman said.

Students from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and UA were loudly chanting, “Don’t hate, educate” between speakers at the rally, the 28-year-old graduate student said.

Early Wednesday on UA’s campus, students waited in a line that snaked out the doors of the Student Union to get seats on the 25 buses shuttling protesters to the Capitol.

At about 8 a.m., Alison Betts, chief of staff for the Graduate Student Council, waited to register with fellow graduate students Jessica Gerlach and Stephanie Merz.

All three had handmade signs that read “Keep education alive” and “We need education in Arizona.”

“We need the Legislature to realize how important education is to our (state’s) recovery,” Betts said, “and how necessary it is to have an educated population.”

Jameson Welling, 19, waited to board one of the buses “and show (legislators) that students care.”

Welling, a microbiology sophomore, got creative with his sign: he was holding a wooden sword with red, yellow and black paint on it and the letters FTRE written on one side.

“It means FUTURE without the U, because we are the U and you can’t have a future without our education,” he said. “I guess I wanted to make the point of slashing and cutting the budget with a sword.”

Many of the students going to Phoenix skipped classes, but some said their professors won’t mind.

Though Giovanni Bosco wasn’t at the protest, the assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology encouraged students to participate.

“This is a very serious situation that will dramatically affect the future of our students and their families in Arizona,” he said. “Every one of my colleagues supports the students’ decision to protest.”

Several students say they feared that budget cuts would eliminate some classes outright, increase the size of others and result in the firing of faculty members – all of which make it harder for students to graduate.

The university presidents earlier announced the schools can swallow $100 million in cuts in an effort to head off deeper reductions proposed by key Republican appropriations committee chairmen.

At the end of the protest students marched twice around the Capitol building chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” said participant Sarah Raskin, a UA graduate student.

“It was a beautiful day,” she said. “It was important to come together, all three universities, on such a crucial issue.”

Raskin said she was protesting “to make legislators realize that a state that underfunds education is only setting itself up for an export of talented scientists, writers and artists.”

Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, said the governor is “sensitive to the impact that many years of fiscal mismanagement is going to have” on Arizona and its students, but is working to “minimize the impact.”

UA students board a bus to travel to Phoenix and protest the proposed cuts UA faces.

UA students board a bus to travel to Phoenix and protest the proposed cuts UA faces.

UA student Bryan Baker holds up a protest sign as he leaves the Student Union to board a bus to Phoenix Wednesday morning.

UA student Bryan Baker holds up a protest sign as he leaves the Student Union to board a bus to Phoenix Wednesday morning.

Thousands attended the protest.

Thousands attended the protest.

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