Anastasia Dawson

Anastasia Dawson has written 6 posts for The Digital Bullpen

Birds of a feather: USF offers options for senior-citizen students, yet fitting in remains a challenge

Joseph Piervincenti spent the morning searching for a hamburger that he didn’t even want.

A USF music student, Piervincenti was in a dour mood that September morning. He had just walked into the Marshall Student Center, where he normally goes to read after class, and he noticed he was the only student who did not receive a greeting at the door during a Week of Welcome event.

Although other students may have ignored the perceived slight, Piervincenti did not.

For him, it was just another sign that younger generations do not respect their elders; that he did not quite fit.

Piervincenti said he had been ignored before, and he knew it would probably happen again. But the way the student greeters “looked right through” him prompted the student to file a complaint with the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

He felt he was being discriminated against because of his age, yet the workers in the discrimination office simply suggested he get a free burger and “join in the fun” of Week of Welcome festivities.

Thus, he embarked on a quest.

If the average USF student, age 18-22, can be characterized as a hamburger, then Piervincenti might be considered a pastrami sandwich.

With a long, white ponytail, the 62-year-old is a combination of spice and sour. He believes his age causes his peers to treat him differently. Though the university has many accommodations for seniors wishing to attend college, Piervincenti has learned that fitting in with twenty-somethings is not guaranteed.

“I enjoyed the privilege of public access at the library for several years before I registered at 60,” he said.  “I registered because I was amazed at the prospect of entering a university, a place that I have felt was a bastion of knowledge, education, and learning — a free-spirited, open-minded and intellectual environment as I had experienced in the seventies at the City University of New York.

“Wow, did I get a rude awakening.”

That brings the story back to the burger search, which led Piervincenti to a young man rolling a food cart into an elevator in the student center.

“Well, we’re going up to the Ballroom now,” the student told Piervincenti, while filling the mouth of the elevator with vats of patties.

Piervincenti would not give up. He asked if he could get one from the student once they reached the burgers’ final destination.

“Well, we’re trying not to give them out too quickly,” the student said.

As rain careened off the windows of the center, Piervincenti once again felt the stigma of his age.

“Oh?” Piervincenti said. “Well, you already gave out about 200 of them to all the people in here. That seems pretty quick to me.”

He began to pull out his student ID to prove that the burger was deserved.

“Oh, all right, I’ll give you one,” the student replied. “Do you want veggie or meat?”

Piervincenti recalled: “While I was eating it with a lump of upset in my throat, a young couple came to (the fourth floor) with their hamburgers and sat and ate them. I introduced myself and … reviewed with them what I went through to get my hamburger and asked if they experienced that, too. They said no. They just walked up to the stand and were given hamburgers. The gentleman told me he (wasn’t) even a student here.”

And so was born a discrimination complaint, which the office chose not to pursue.

According to USF’s Non-Discrimination Policy, students are prohibited from “singling out or targeting an individual for different or adverse treatment,” as well as “making comments, slurs, or jokes which are derogatory toward any individual’s race, color, marital status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, sexual orientation or military status.”

Though the Division of Student Affairs exists to help students who feel they have been victimized, Piervincenti said he rarely goes that far. Many of his experiences are simply a case of “birds of a feather flocking together,” he said — students feel more comfortable around those their own age.

He’s learned, for the most part, that he just has to live with that.

Piervincenti finds some encouragement through members of MINT – Mature Independent Non-traditional students, though he said it is “not a senior organization in the least.”

Ana Labadie, a senior majoring in accounting and president of the group, is the mother of a 16-month-old baby and is in the process of purchasing her first house with her husband, who enrolled at USF this fall.

She and her husband both have been laid off from jobs on more than one occasion since 2007, sending her back to school full-time.

“I wanted to make sure that I had the full college experience even though I am 32 and married with a baby,” Labadie said. “I did not want to attend school part time for a few years, get a degree and be out. I wanted to feel like I was in college at USF and really embrace the experience of being a Bull.”

Piervincenti wants those things too, but for him, the non-traditional student group is not a perfect fit.

At one time, he thought he would form a student organization specifically for senior citizens, yet those he encouraged to enroll at USF were reluctant.

“They generally didn’t seem to want to come forward or to be in the spotlight,” he said. “A couple said that they didn’t feel that they fit in.”

Some seniors avoid sticking out on campus by taking classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a membership organization for senior citizens who wish to take college classes without grades and within their own age group.

Though no headcount is available for seniors registered at USF, the institute has seen an average growth rate between 5 and 7 percent over the last three years, said Director Aracelis Rogers.

“Our home base in the Continuing Education Building is filled with social work and public health students,” Rogers said. “There is a natural tendency to ‘stick with your own,’ though, and that’s as true for OLLI members as it is for USF students.

“When there is opportunity for interaction, it is often eye-opening for the student and for the older adult,” Rogers said. “I like to think that what OLLI is really about is challenging stereotypes about what it means to grow old. I’d describe the interactions I’ve observed (between student and senior) as mutually respectful and supportive.”

The Lifelong Learning Institute, which has about 1,300 members, offers individual courses for those 50 and older, for prices ranging from $30 to $50 per class. There are few assignments, no tests, no grades and no degrees.

But that is not the experience Piervincenti wanted. A vocalist who performed professionally in New York for about four years, he chose to audit music classes.

USF’s Senior Citizen Audit Program allows Florida residents like Piervincenti to enroll in university courses on a space available basis without paying fees or receiving university credit, though “space available often means not available on our crowded campus,” Rogers said.

Rogers said a small scholarship program has been developed for OLLI members, but she did not know of any scholarships for the “degree-seeking, older adult.”

The Osher Reentry Scholarship helps non-traditional students return to college to finish their bachelor’s degree, she said, but it is not offered to adults over the age of 50.

Piervincenti, who will begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits this fall, said his family thinks it’s “very cool” that he has returned to school.

Despite the challenges, so does he.

“Human nature is frail in many ways,” he said. “I find that while diversity attempts to recognize the differences we have between us as peoples, that perhaps some efforts might be made in recognizing the ‘sameness-es’ we have as human beings. I feel there’s a lot more in the sameness category than there is in the ‘different-ness’ category.”

Florida Legislature to increase university tuition, decrease scholarship funding

Angela Lagano, a senior majoring in psychology, worked six jobs this semester to pay for her tuition. Photo/Anastasia Dawson

By Anastasia Dawson

If she wasn’t graduating from USF this semester, Angela Lagano said she probably wouldn’t be able to afford attending school next fall, when USF’s tuition could increase by as much as 15 percent.

“I have a Bright Futures (scholarship) and I have a lot of loans,” said the senior psychology major. “At the beginning of the semester I had six jobs … and five classes. I had no time. I was doing homework at work and then doing six jobs at the same time.”

The Florida House of Representatives and Senate voted to increase universities’ base tuition by 8 percent Monday, as well as allow all universities the option of adding an additional 7 percent increase. Though tuition could go up by as much as 15 percent, USF Associate Vice President of Government Relations Mark Walsh said in an interview that state-sponsored scholarships, such as the Bright Futures program, and higher education funding will decrease.

It’s a pattern that USF Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said is cropping up across the U.S. In an effort to save money, states are beginning to make significant cuts to their higher education budgets, he said in an interview, while raising tuition so students incur some of the extra costs.

“One of the only other options to bring in more revenue for states is to increase taxes,” Smith said. “Yet the later part of this decade has been one that is very much of an anti-tax fervor … and has come about in a political climate where people are really starting to put on the breaks about taxation.”

Walsh said it is up to the Board of Trustees to determine whether USF will increase tuition by the full 15 percent, but the “tuition increases offset a lot” of the university’s lost revenue. Because stimulus funds, which USF used in its base operations budget, are no longer available, the House and the Senate are currently debating reducing state funding of universities by 9 percent, he said, yet have until May 6 to draft a final budget plan.

He also said the two chambers have “basically” agreed to cut awards for the Bright Futures program from $437 million this year to $350 million next year. As a result, Walsh said the eligibility standards will be heightened for the 2013 high school graduating class, and he anticipates the per credit hour award will be lowered “based on whatever they can afford for $350 million.”

“What (USF) asked legislators for (in terms of funding) was essentially the number that is necessary to run the university system,” Walsh said, “and whether that comes from state funds or tuition is not as important to us as having the amount of revenue. When the state’s not able to pay for that, that tuition becomes all the more important.”

Over the past three years, USF’s tuition has steadily increased, said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, yet the actual costs of an education haven’t changed much.

“The cost of a … full-time equivalent undergraduate student is about $10,500,” he said. “Today it’s the same as a decade ago, which is pretty amazing when you think about the impact inflation has had on faculty salaries. “

According to USF’s University Scholarships and Financial Aid website, the estimated cost of attendance for an undergraduate student living off campus for the 2010-11 academic year $15,300 for a Florida resident and $26,110 for an out-of-state student.

Walsh said the legislature’s proposed budget cuts are “in the neighborhood” of what USF anticipated, yet the university is still holding out hope for greater financial support from the state. With more funding, USF would actually profit from the tuition increases, he said, instead of using the extra money to offset reductions.

“I do think that this will probably be the … lowest of the budgets from the state perspective, because we’re hoping the economy will recover,” Walsh said. “The state’s economists are projecting a recovery, so we’ll have more state funds to deal with. What happened this year was a perfect storm of issues where the economy hasn’t quite picked up fast enough … and there were some other issues with state things like Medicaid that are increasing their costs.”

Until then, Wilcox said administrators will have to “be much more responsive in the ways that private universities are,” because students are “demanding much more” from their educational experience since they are paying more.

Regardless of the outcome of the legislative session, Wilcox said USF will prioritize need-based financial aid — something Lagano said would save students like her from unneeded stress.

“I was so determined to get in to school that I was studying for my SAT my freshman year (of high school),” Lagano said. “But even with scholarships I had to work to put myself through school … When I think about it it’s like, ‘I know that I’ve done it, but how did I do it?’”

USF nearing end of Pi Kappa Alpha investigation

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A temporary suspension of USF’s chapter of the Phi Kappa Alpha (PKA) fraternity could be lifted Friday afternoon, pending the outcome of a university investigation.

When administrators were notified that members of the fraternity had allegedly abused another member off campus, they immediately launched an investigation of the claims, led by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the USF Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

As per university policy, the fraternity was temporarily suspended for the duration of the investigation.

“When USF suspends somebody from Greek life, they have to cease and desist any type of operations going on on campus,” said PKA’s chapter adviser Donald Post. “Friday afternoon the investigation should be definitely complete from USF’s standpoint.”

Assistant Vice President and Dean for Students Kevin Banks said these investigations usually last from three to five days, yet there are no time constraints. The duration depends on the information administrators discover, he said.

If a verdict is reached Friday, the investigation would have lasted 11 days.

“There’s not much we can say until the investigation is over,” Banks said. “But we will be looking into whether or not the act was a form of hazing … We hold student organizations accountable through our organizational code of conduct and individuals are held accountable by the student code of conduct. Once we review the matter we will decide if it’s going to be organizational and individual.”

Even though the alleged victim was not being initiated into the fraternity and was already a member, university spokesman Michael Hoad said hazing charges could still apply.

“Hazing apparently can be defined as conduct that includes initiation, but could include behavior outside of initiation,” Hoad said. “This incident is clearly not an initiation, but we’ll have to wait and see what the results of the review are.”

According to Florida Senate Bill 51, all universities in the State of Florida University System must write and adopt anti-hazing policies. USF’s hazing policy states that “any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student,” is considered hazing, regardless of whether or not it happened on campus.

Hoad said most investigations of this nature are largely based on police reports, however University Police (UP) spokesman Lt. Chris Daniels said no reports for the incident exist.

“The victim requested that police do not investigate,” he said. “UP is not launching its own investigation into the incident.”

According to USF’s Student Code of Conduct, “The USF system may pursue disciplinary action even if criminal justice authorities choose not to prosecute, and it may also act independently of the criminal justice process.”

Hoad said any disciplinary action would be at the discretion of university administrators.

For now, the members of PKA will just have to await their decision.

USF faculty union prepares for grievances, pay cuts

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Members of USF’s chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) are currently pursuing two grievances with USF, as well as anticipating legislation that could mean pay cuts for faculty members and the potential disbandment of the chapter.

Though legislators will debate bills until May 6, Gregory McColm, UFF’s chapter secretary and communications chair, said the chapter is currently “looking at what their options are for the next few years,” as well as preparing for a collective bargaining session with USF in fall 2012.

“I think there is a general feeling that higher education in Florida is under siege,” McColm said. “These are not measures taken to benefit the Florida economy. These are measures largely taken to target people who the legislative leadership and the governor regard as political opponents… We’re really going to have to get organized if we’re going to resist all this.”

Here are just a few items currently on UFF members’ radar:

- House Bill 1023 – This bill, proposed by the Florida House of Representatives, could decertify unions if 50 percent of the population they represent are not dues-paying members by July 1. Though legislators will not begin negotiating Senate and House proposals until after April 24, McColm said UFF has placed a heavy emphasis on recruiting members “just in case.”

“Right now about 30 percent of all 1,640 plus employees are members of the union,” McColm said.

Photo courtesy of

If the bill were to pass, the union would need around 300 more members to join to avoid disbandment.

- House Bill 1021 – If passed, this bill would prevent public employees from deducting union dues directly from their paychecks and would require them to provide “written authorization for dues to go toward political activities,” McColm said, essentially just creating more paperwork for unions.

“It’s essentially not a cost-saving manner,” he said.  ”It’s a gratuitous swipe at unions and it would increase the unions administrative costs and increase the hassle for union members.”

- Pension Reform Plan - Gov. Rick Scott’s plan would ask employees to make contributions to their retirement plans to reduce the amount contributed  by state agencies.

“If you follow Scott’s statement that we should put in 5 percent of our salaries into the pension fund, whereas in the past state agencies were paying that 5 percent, what that means is that we’re getting the equivalent of a 5 percent pay cut,” McColm said.

Though the faculty members recently received raises from USF, McColm said they amount to less then the 5 percent recommendation.

- University Grievances – Chief negotiator between USF and UFF Robert Welker said two union grievances are currently pending between the two bodies. Though specific information about the grievances cannot be disclosed until after they are settled, he said one involves extra requirements USF wants to place on faculty members before they are allowed to collect a $250 bonus for each student thesis or doctoral dissertation they supervise. The other grievance addresses differences in the way merit pay, bonuses given to faculty members based on performance, was distributed.

“There is a moratorium on grievances from April 8 until June 20 while Dr. Kofi Glover (associate provost) is out of the country,” Welker said. “There are ongoing informal communications between the parties, as compared to formal grievance meetings or hearings, in order to attempt to resolve said grievances.”

Grad school rankings could boost USF funding, reputation

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Twenty-eight programs in the USF Graduate School have been featured on the US News & World Report‘s list of 2012 America’s Best Graduate Schools.

“This is very good for us because we can now hold this up and say, ‘Hey, if you like rankings, and that’s what you’re going to base grad school decisions on, we can supply that for you,’” said Associate Dean of the Graduate School Richard Pollenz.

The list, which was released online on March 15, will be published in the April 5 edition of the publication. The news couldn’t have come at a better time.

Pollenz said that being included on the list adds recognition to the university, giving students a better chance at “getting in to top colleges and top jobs in the private sector” — a sentiment that could fuel arguments for the state university system’s New Florida Initiative.

According to USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, the initiative is meant to use universities as instruments of economic development and job growth. It also calls for significant investments from state legislators, who have proposed significant cuts to Florida’s 2012 higher education budget.

If state legislators invest in the New Florida Initiative the USF system could also see base budget increases, said Associate Vice President of Government Relations Mark Walsh.

The list is also good news for USF President Judy Genshaft’s strategic plan, proposed in 2007, to elevate the USF’s national reputation as a research university by 2012. The plan cited the promotion of research and graduate programs, as well as “improvement in the scope and quality of graduate programs” as major priorities.

Image courtesy of "USF Graduate School - Celebrating 30 years of growing global leaders one scholar at a time"

Pollenz said a surge in international students in the graduate school, more internationally renowned professors and increases in funding from administrators may also be attributed to being listed in previous year’s reports.

However, though the graduate school may see more funding and more applicants as a result of this year’s publication, Pollenz said the title should be viewed “with a grain of salt.”

Pollenz said US News & World Report only used surveys that university deans submitted to the publication. A panel of deans and other academics then ranked the schools who returned the surveys.

Read more about the US News & World Report’s methodology here.

“But we’re not going to ever complain that we’re getting publicity and getting these rankings,” Pollenz said.

See which USF programs made the list here, and view a full list of the best programs in the nation here.

Administrators brace for budget cuts

When Gov. Rick Scott announced his proposed budget for the next fiscal year early last month, USF administrators knew they were going to be in for a tight squeeze.

“Bottom line: It does (not) recognize the importance of higher education,” university spokesman Michael Hoad said of the governor’s proposed budget in a Feb. 7 e-mail,  “although we have a long way to go to read it all and figure out everything.”

Today those fears have been confirmed — both proposed budgets from the House of Representatives and the Senate feature significant cuts to higher education spending. Mark Walsh, the associate vice president of government relations at USF, said the Senate budget is “significantly less” than last year’s education budget, and the House budget is “less by a couple hundred million dollars than what the Senate is proposing.”

During a Faculty Senate meeting March 23, USF Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith confirmed that administrators “still don’t know very much at all,” but asked all university deans to begin preparing two budget scenarios: one that accounts for a 3 percent reduction to USF’s budget and the other that accounts for a 5 percent reduction.

“We are pretty certain that stimulus money is gone,” Smith said. “Cuts are varying percentages from 1 to 10 percent of our base budget, but nothing is resolved.”

But why should the average USF student pay attention to budget talk?

Smith said that administrators are hoping to be allowed to increase tuition to help make up for some of the lost funds.

In addition, Walsh said state economists were unable to allocate any Public Education Capital Outlay trust funds to university building projects — the “first time in history” no money will be allocated toward university construction. He said this could mean that buildings on campus “may stand partially completed” until alternate funding for projects like the Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility is secured.

“Typically we’ve drawn about $5 million in our share of these funds, but they announced the other day that the allocation for the entire state university system is $14 million,” Smith said. “We anticipate our share of that being about $1 million and some change and to the consequence we’ll have considerably less money to draw from this.”

Photo by Cesar Hernandez: Student Body President Cesar Hernandez meets with Gov. Rick Scott to discuss Florida's higher education budget.

Lobbying efforts are in full swing, Smith said. USF Provost Ralph Wilcox and Student Body President Cesar Hernandez met with Scott March 24 and March 22 respectively to advocate for the university and their six “highest priorities,” as listed in a release from the USF Department of Government Relations. Those priorities include:

1. Supporting the Board of Governor’s “New Florida Initiative,” which would provide base budget increases for all USF System campuses

2. Support for full PECO funding for USF construction projects

3. Support for budget increases for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, which has conducted significant research on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year

4. Persuade the state to match funds for private donations to the USF System

5. Support USF’s partnership with The Jackson Laboratory and provide funding to build a new facility to house the program

6. Pass Senate Bill 632, which would provide recurring funds to the university to pay for construction-related costs off campus

To learn more about the budget process, view this PowerPoint.

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