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Budget Plan Threatens VCU Centers

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Examples at VCU include the Virginia Labor Studies Center, the Neurosciences Center, the HIV/AIDS Center and the Center for Environmental Studies. Style had been unable to reach Bryant by press time.

At VCU, the amendment would take away about $2.5 million from university centers, says Pam Lepley, director of university news services. (A few centers are self-sustaining and do not rely on state money.) Massey Cancer Center and the Brain Injury Center would also be spared. "Needless to say, we're not happy," Lepley says.

Nor are people who work with or depend on VCU's centers. One vocal opponent of the proposed amendment is John Toscano, executive director of the Autism Program of Virginia (TAP-VA). His program receives most of its $660,000 annual budget through VCU and works with the university's research centers to diagnose and help autistic children and adults.

There are about 29,000 people with autism in Virginia, he says, and the birth rate for autistic children has gone up nationwide about 300 percent in the last 10 years. The state needs his program more than ever, Toscano says.

If the amendment passes, VCU would have to hike tuition by about $150 to $200 per student per year to save its centers, Lepley says. But the university has already raised rates this year and plans another increase next year, she says, and administrators fear the burden on students would be too great.

In an address last week to legislators who will review the amendment, VCU President Eugene P. Trani pointed out that, adjusting for inflation, state support for full-time resident students has declined by a third since 1989.

"We respect that the General Assembly is having to make the hard decisions and look in every nook and cranny — the way we have been doing for a long time, as well," Lepley says. But VCU will ask legislators to keep looking. — Melissa Scott

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