SLC reforms aim for efficient lobbying

by Jens Krogstad

The Student Legislative Coalition’s participation in Wednesday’s Lobby Day showed the radical transformation the group has undergone since reorganizing last year, the group’s leaders said.

SLC leaders said the new and improved SLC puts the lobbying power back where it belongs: with students.

“Before, you’d get 100 people at the Capitol; not even a busload would go,” former SLC Vice Chairwoman Chris Frazier said.

This year, more than 500 students from the University’s four campuses bused to the State Capitol on Wednesday. The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group’s Student

Action Day was also held Wednesday.

Though members thought their involvement in last year’s Lobby Day was successful, they said they hoped to build on changes the organization finalized last spring.

SLC leaders said the problem with the old SLC was rooted in an incompetent staff being paid with students’ money.

The nonpartisan organization is run by student government leaders from all four campuses with the purpose of lobbying for the University.

Before, the SLC paid two staff members to lobby and keep the organization’s finances in order, and they did neither effectively, said SLC Chairman Eric Dyer, who is also Minnesota Student Association president.

“The staff never had contact with the students and they

didn’t know what was going on, and we were spending a lot of our money for them to do that,” said Kyle Rollness, a Crookston SLC board member.

The SLC received $66,427 in fees money from the campuses from January through November 2003. They no longer have paid lobbyists or receive Student Services Fees.

Current and former SLC members said their organization was in financial disarray, that power struggles dominated meetings and that the coalition cast a vote of no confidence against their chairwoman.

Rather than disband, SLC regrouped and formed a new philosophy.

“It took four months of redesign and we put it back in the hand of student organizations so they can lobby for issues that are important for their campus,” Frazier said.

Because of those changes, each campus will lobby for its specific needs this year, which include mostly building renovations and expansions.

Dyer said this year’s overarching message is to take care of what the University has and to avoid further cuts.

“We’re still here, we’re still fighting and we deserve better,” he said.

Students want legislators to give them a definite timeframe on when tuition increases will stop, Dyer said.

Another issue is the “higher tuition – higher aid” model, in which more financial aid is given to students to compensate for rising tuition.

He said the program facilitates low-income students, who benefit from the need-based grants in attending college, but ignores middle-class students who cannot afford rising tuition and are not eligible for the grants.

“The problem is, it’s squeezing out the working class,” Dyer said. “Grants are not the answer to higher tuition.”

Rollness said the challenge for the current student-run SLC is to retain the information it gathers from year to year after students leave.

Dyer agreed and said meticulous documentation is needed to make the SLC work in the future.

“The ideal answer for that problem is staff, but look what that did to us last year,” he said.