Students to raise voices over rising costs

On Feb. 22, University students will have the opportunity to learn about lobbying and meet with their legislators.

by Cali Owings

With $171 million cuts to higher education in Gov. Mark DaytonâÄôs proposed budget, students across the state will convene at the Capitol on Feb. 22 for the Rally to Restore Affordability to support state funding for the University of Minnesota.

The Minnesota Student Association will shuttle students from Coffman Union to the Capitol beginning at 10 a.m., Feb. 22. Students from all coordinate campuses will have the opportunity to learn about lobbying and meet with their legislators.

U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minn., state Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, and University President Bob Bruininks will address students during the rally.

Formerly called “Support the U Day,” the rally has been rebranded by MSA for the specific purpose of keeping the cost of education at the University down.

Last year, as legislators considered a bonding bill, students advocated on behalf of the UniversityâÄôs bonding request for projects like the Folwell Hall renovation. This year, MSA Legislative Affairs Director Nick Saab said students will focus on keeping tuition manageable without losing quality.

Tuition accounted for 21.8 percent of University revenue sources for 2010-11, while the state covered nearly 18 percent.

“The University is an enormous driver in the economy of this state and cutting it in this moment is not beneficial,” Saab said. “ItâÄôs not looking out for the state, and itâÄôs not looking out for the students.”

Representatives from different campuses have prepared testimonials for the rally. Saab said the Legislature has been notified that students will be there Tuesday, and he said heâÄôs sure some will watch the rally.

After the rally, students who RSVP to meet with legislators can voice their concerns, but that can be daunting for students who never have before.

For students who are nervous about voicing their concerns with a legislator, there will be a “Lobbying 101” session in the Capitol Office Building prior to the rally.

Saab said the training will help unify their message and keep communication respectful and professional with “the weight of the University behind it.”

Chris Tastad, director of the Legislative Certificate Program, MSAâÄôs lobbying arm, will have less than an hour to give students the crash course.

Tastad said meeting with a representative can be like a first-year student talking to a professor for the first time.

“They can seem like a really important, intimidating person, but in reality they are there for you. Just like a professor, the representative actually works for you as a constituent,” he said.

To prepare, Tastad recommends that students think about what they are involved in at the University, such as research opportunities, and how the budget keeps those activities running.

For many, this opportunity can be a first step toward political involvement in the future.

“A light, one-day event like this kind of spurs that curiosity,” Tastad said.

In previous years, it was required for students to meet with their representatives. Saab said he hoped making it optional will allow students who donâÄôt want to have the meeting to show their support by attending the rally portion.

There is no dress code, Saab said, because legislators should be aware that these are students who may not be able to afford suits.

The event is not a University-sanctioned activity.