For Immediate Release
As the #FreeCollegeNow Tour comes to a close,
Adjunct Professors & Students Protest GOP Fundraiser Demanding Free College
Inside the event, professors called on gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam to support free college
FLORIDA – Last night, adjunct professors, students, fast food workers and community members dressed in orange caps and gowns and carrying floating banners and a giant ball and chain of debt rallied outside a GOP fundraiser. At the event, attended by gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, protesters called on candidates and elected officials to support of their demands for tuition-free college, student loan forgiveness and $15 and a union for all campus employees.
“As an adjunct professor, I see my students struggle everyday with crushing student loan debt,” said Renee Zelden, an adjunct professor at Broward and Miami Dade College. “Meanwhile, my colleagues and I are making less than $20,000 a year and many of us are forced to rely on government assistance like food stamps. That isn’t right and it’s time Florida politicians did something about it.”
Ahead of the primaries, adjunct professors, students and community members traveled across Florida as part of the statewide #FreeCollegeNow Tour. The group traveled from city-to-city by bus to mobilize voters and candidates in support of their demands. In just a week, participants on the #FreeCollegeNow Tour spoke with half a dozen Florida elected officials and candidates, including US Representative and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Gubernatorial Candidate and Former Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum, State Senator Audrey Gibson, State Representative Amy Mercado, State Representative Carlos Smith, the staff of State Senator Linda Stewart and Candidate for State Representative Anna Eskamani. State Senate Candidate Olysha Magruder also tweeted her support. After getting many candidates, including all of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, to take a stance on free college, the group is taking its calls to Republicans.
“We’re looking forward to hearing more on how both parties will resolve the student debt crisis facing Floridians,” said Brad Beckman, an adjunct professor at Broward College.“Tens of thousands of voters across this state are already vowing to support candidates who will address the crushing student loan debt holding too many of us back. We’re ready to support candidates who will stand with us.”
Years of austerity in Tallahassee have resulted in a broken higher education system that leaves too many in debt and poverty in Florida, participants say. It is ranked 50th among all states for funding of public services and has seen substantial cuts to education. Higher education funding has been cut by more than 23 percent from a decade ago, while tuition is up by 62 percent over the same period. Today, Floridians hold nearly $80 billion in student loan debt and adjunct professors are paid so little that many have to rely on government assistance.
While Florida has become a symbol of challenges in the higher education system, it has also become the center of a growing movement to organize for change. Over the last two years, adjunct professors at Hillsborough Community College, Broward College and University of South Florida have formed their unions. Faculty at Valencia College, Seminole State College and Miami Dade College recently filed for their unions and others are actively organizing across the state. These adjuncts, who are part of the growing SEIU Faculty Forward movement, have called on political candidates at the gubernatorial debate and town hall meetings in Tampa and Miami to commit to reinvesting in students and educators alike by supporting free college.
To build on this momentum and push for system-wide change, adjunct faculty from across the country were invited by local adjuncts to join their efforts to organize voters on the #FreeCollegeNow Tour. Making stops in Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Gainesville, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, and Miami, adjuncts are traveling city-by-city on bus to organize voters to pledge their support for candidates who are for tuition-free college, student loan forgiveness and a minimum of $15 an hour and a union voice for all campus employees.
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