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Monday, May 23, 2022
<p>Jose Soto, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in food and resource economics, 31, left, and anthropology junior Robbey Hayes, 22, right, lead a group of about 60 protesters to Emerson Alumni Hall, where the UF Board of Trustees met Thursday. They rallied against tuition and fees increases.</p>

Jose Soto, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in food and resource economics, 31, left, and anthropology junior Robbey Hayes, 22, right, lead a group of about 60 protesters to Emerson Alumni Hall, where the UF Board of Trustees met Thursday. They rallied against tuition and fees increases.

With a gallery of administrators, protesters and Student Government officials present, the UF Board of Trustees met Thursday to address issues ranging from new student fees to the proposed Reitz Union renovation.

The board's Committee on Educational Policy & Strategy approved a proposal for a new undergraduate enhancement fee that would supplement graduate assistant stipends.

The committee is comprised of the full board, which will meet today.

If the Board of Governors, the state university system's highest governing body, approves the fee, undergraduate students will pay $89 per semester or $178 per year throughout their undergraduate education. The new fee would not be covered by the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship.

UF President Bernie Machen spoke about the impact graduate assistants have on undergraduate education, citing the bulk of instruction they provide to undergraduate students.

"I think it is an investment in the future of our undergraduate program and our graduate program," Machen said.

Student Body President Anthony Reynolds abstained from the vote, saying he did not feel comfortable taking a stance.

"After careful thought, I realized that I represent undergraduate and graduate students," Reynolds said.

After speaking with members of Graduate Assistants United, who asked the Board of Trustees at the meeting to eliminate graduate assistant fees, Machen said he is willing to discuss the concerns after the beginning of the new year.

"I think there's some common ground in there that we can work over," he said.

The Board also approved a reallocation of student fees to finance the renovation and expansion of the Reitz Union.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $75 million.

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Reynolds emphasized that no new student fee will be created.

A reallocation of 87 cents from each student's Activities and Service Fee, which is covered by Bright Futures, would go toward the project.

The cost to a student taking 15 credit hours would be $13.05.

Reynolds said he would adamantly oppose any new fee for the renovation.

"I really can't see myself increasing the burden on students," he said.

An overview of the renovation and expansion was presented by Matt Fajack, UF's chief financial officer.

In the first phase, the existing colonnade would be destroyed and replaced by a 110,000-square-foot, multi-level building. The 75,000 square feet of the existing Reitz Union would be renovated, improving its structural integrity and sustainability.

About 60 students denouncing tuition and fees hikes rallied on Turlington Plaza as the committee meetings began. The Gator Student Alliance organized the event.

The group marched to the meeting at Emerson Alumni Hall, blocking traffic on University Avenue for about 15 minutes as they chanted.

After speaking at the meeting, the protesters left the room. Board Chairman Carlos Alfonso met with them downstairs, where the conversation became heated.

Students insisted Alfonso sign a banner that listed the group's demands, which included a moratorium on future tuition hikes.

When students asked him why tuition increases happen, Alfonso could get in only one statement before the argument continued:

"It must be done," he said.

After disagreeing over the need for the increases, which are not discussed by the Board of Trustees until the end of the school year, protesters abruptly erupted in chants as Alfonso walked away and returned to the meeting. He later apologized for the tone of the encounter.

"I had a terse conversation with the students downstairs," he said. "For my part in that, I want to apologize because I know how [passionate] they are."

"I just want to say we want to continue these dialogues," he said. "They are stakeholders for us."

Jose Soto, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in food and resource economics, 31, left, and anthropology junior Robbey Hayes, 22, right, lead a group of about 60 protesters to Emerson Alumni Hall, where the UF Board of Trustees met Thursday. They rallied against tuition and fees increases.

Student Body Treasurer T. J. Villamil, left, and Reitz Union Board of Managers Chairman Sean Fahy speak Thursday about the Reitz Union renovation.

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