September 19, 2012 — Coral Gables — A high school chemistry teacher for 12 years before she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Miami, Cary Tabares knew exactly the question she wanted to ask Governor Mitt Romney when she learned that the Republican presidential nominee was coming to UM for the first of two Univision discussions with the candidates: What will you do to help teachers earn a decent salary so that the high cost of living doesn’t force them out of the profession in search of better-paying jobs?
Tabares’s question, which she posed to Romney, is one that has troubled her for years. She left teaching for precisely the same reason—frustrated with a school district that had not given teachers a pay raise in four years. Inside UM’s BankUnited Center Fieldhouse on Wednesday evening, she at least got a measure of hope.
Several University of Miami students attended the one-on-one conversation with Romney, listening to issues that affect them directly.
“His [Romney’s] answer was good,” Tabares said after the forum, “and I appreciate his acknowledgement that we need better teachers and that we have to pay them well. Many people have promised it before, and they haven’t been able to come through. If he’s elected president, I hope for the sake of our nation and the kids that he can do it.”
Tabares was one of about 300 University of Miami students who attended the so-called “Meet the Candidates” forums, staged by Univision and Facebook to focus on education and the future of the Hispanic community.
President Barack Obama, who touted his energy policies during a visit to the UM campus last February, was set to follow Romney on September 20.
At both forums, a handful of students like Tabares are getting the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to inspect the candidates for whom they’re deciding to vote. Issues that directly affect them, whether from an academic or personal standpoint, dominated their questions.
Connie Fossi, a 22-year-old journalism major at UM, was the first student to question the former Massachusetts governor, asking him where he stands on the federal Pell Grant Program that provides need-based assistance to low-income undergraduate students. “It’s an issue that’s important to me because I have a Pell Grant that’s helped me attend school,” said Fossi.
UM President Donna E. Shalala speaks with some of the students who attended the Romney event.
Romney said that, if elected president, he would continue the Pell Grant Program and allow the grants to grow at the rate of inflation.
UM student Laura Morcate wanted to know what steps Romney would take to ease the debt burden on college students faced with trying to repay college loans. Romney told her that the best thing he could do for her was to help ensure that she not only got a job after graduating, but that the job would be one in her field.
Among other issues addressed by Romney, he promised to reform immigration, saying Democrats and Republicans need to work together to find a solution. He outlined his five-point plan to create 12 million new jobs, citing a balanced budget, pro-small-business agenda, skills training for job seekers, increasing trade, and creating opportunities in renewable energy as key factors in his plan. He also talked of partnering with Mexico to help put an end to drug cartels.
Hundreds of students who could not attend the forums watched the action via live feed at watch parties in the Whitten University Center.
“The ability of UM to host these town-hall-style meetings was a terrific opportunity for a number of our students, allowing them to participate directly in the electoral process, whether at the Fieldhouse or the watch parties we hosted,” said Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs. “Both forums, within 24 hours of each other, bring tremendous energy and pride to the UM community.”
Inside UM's Whitten University Center, students who were unable to attend the forum watched the event via a live feed.
University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala said the institution was “proud to be part of these important events that will address the future of education and Hispanics in the nation” and that students were “thrilled to have the candidates for president on our campus.”
The conversation with Romney, moderated by Univsion anchors Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, a UM alumnus, was streamed on the Univision Noticias Facebook Page, as the Obama event will be.
The forums come four years after Univision hosted its Destino debates at UM featuring Democratic and Republican candidates in two separate forums addressing Hispanic issues.
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