BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Chanting "No Funds, No Future," hundreds of LSU students and university supporters converged Thursday on the Louisiana Capitol to protest budget cuts that threaten to shutter programs, eliminate classes and force widespread layoffs on their campus.
Many protesters wore purple and gold, the school's colors. They sang the university's alma mater and carried hand-made signs that read "Save Our School" and "Protect Our Future Tigers" as they booed the mention of Gov. Bobby Jindal and yelled that they wouldn't take cuts quietly.
One of the protest organizers, mass communication student Justin DiCharia shouted to the group rallying on the capitol steps: "Silence is surrender, and today they will hear our voices!"
Because of a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, higher education is faced with slashing of up to $600 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, more than 80 percent of college systems' state financing. Jindal recommended tax break changes that need legislative approval to fill part of the gap, but his proposal still would cut $220 million across public college campuses.
"Contrary to popular belief, students are paying attention," said Valencia Richardson, a student who heads Geaux Vote LSU, an effort to encourage more student participation in the political process.
After the protest, students filled two Senate committee rooms to speak to lawmakers on the education and budget panels.
"We realize that this year is going to be tough for the entire state," LSU student body president Andrew Mahtook told the Senate Finance Committee. But he added: "We need the highest quality education possible at the flagship school."
Lawmakers assured students they are trying to drum up new money and stop the cuts.
"We understand the plight that you all have, and we are working to try to solve the problem," said Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.
Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville, held up her cellphone, citing a text message she received from her son, a student at LSU: "My student sent me a note while I'm sitting up here and said, 'Mom, you better fix this."
Any reductions would come on top of $700 million in state financing cuts to campuses since 2008. Louisiana's 34 percent reduction to support for higher education is the largest cut of any state since the national recession.
Students at the rally blamed the political ambitions of Jindal, who has refused tax increases as he weighs a presidential campaign, for the cuts. DiCharia noted the governor wasn't in Louisiana during Thursday's protest.
"Instead, he is in Washington, D.C., pushing his political agenda, an agenda where we are his sacrificial pawns," DiCharia said. "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being Jindal's pawn. I'm tired of being collateral damage in a suicide mission for the presidency."
Jindal chief of staff Kyle Plotkin praised students for "showing up at the Capitol to make their voices heard and make sure higher education funding is protected." He also defended the governor's budget proposal in the statement.
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