More than 200 students from Murray State University and other Kentucky colleges rallied on the doorsteps of the state Capitol on Thursday to protest Gov. Matt Bevin’s statewide budget cuts.
The group arrived in Frankfort at about 7 a.m. Thursday and stayed until about 3 p.m. with different students and Kentucky legislators dropping in throughout the day.
Theater senior from Murray State, Katherine Summerfield, started the Facebook page for the event because she said her entire department could “disappear” as a result of the baseline 9 percent budget cuts that could lead to an increase in tuition at public universities like Murray State and UK.
“Murray State has taken so many budget cuts already, to add another 9 percent, we wouldn’t be able to hold our own anymore,” said Summerfield, who called Bevin’s stance on liberal arts majors “very narrow-minded.”
Bevin has said on numerous occasions that he supports incentivizing careers in science, technology, engineering and math. During his budget proposal speech he revealed that all state funding will eventually go toward outcomes based funding for STEM careers.
“If you are going to ask for taxpayer money to subsidize that education … then it should be used for things that are going to be to the best benefit of the taxpayers themselves,” Bevin said after the EKU gubernatorial debate in October.
Summerfield said majors like theater are no less valuable than STEM majors, and credits her theater training with helping her land her current job selling insurance policies.
“I wouldn’t have the confidence … I wouldn’t have been able to talk to customers … without my theater training, I would have been too scared,” Summerfield said.
Fellow organizer and Murray State student Emily Ferguson, a creative writing junior, said the group started a gofundme.com account that raised more than $1,000 to help pay for the gas and food of students who attended.
The baseline cuts in Bevin’s budget are part of his attempt to focus on the state’s crumbling pension system, ranked as one of the worst in the country.
“Cutting higher education so severely … I don’t think that’s going to work very well,” Ferguson said. “Yes, the pension plan needs to be fixed, and there are a lot of things in the budget that need to change, but I think that it should come from a variety of different sources.”
Most of the students at the rally were liberal arts majors, Ferguson said.
On Feb. 11, UK President Eli Capilouto told the Kentucky House Postsecondary Education Budget Subcommittee the cuts would leave a “chilling” effect across the state and hinder the university’s ability to teach and conduct research.
“This is your university, your university for Kentucky, and in your very palms rests our future,” Capilouto said. “We can’t protect any part of our campus in the face of these draconian cuts.”
Ferguson and Summerfield both said the student protesters had not been in direct contact with Bevin.
If passed by the legislature, Bevin’s proposed budget will take effect starting July 1.