E-petition backs U’s capital request

by Molly Moker

Students sick of tuition increases and funding cuts are asking the governor to support more state money for the University.

For the first time, the University’s Legislative Network created a University-wide e-mail petition to convince Gov. Tim Pawlenty to fully support the University’s capital request when he makes his recommendations to the Legislature in January.

Despite a strong student and alumni response to the petition, some state senators and representatives question how politicians will receive it.

The Legislative Network – an association of alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members who work to get students involved in University legislative issues – began circulating the petition Nov. 6 to students, alumni and others connected to the University. As of Tuesday, the petition had 5,000 signatures.

The petition focuses on support for the bonding bill because this is a capital request year – meaning the University and other public institutions can request money for building projects from the Legislature.

State Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth) said the petition is an excellent idea and will impact how much money the Senate gives the University.

“We need citizens to speak out like this,” said Prettner Solon, Senate Higher Education Budget Division vice chairwoman. “We don’t know the impact things have on people until they let us know.”

But State Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring) said the petition will not necessarily succeed.

He said although it is great that students are taking an interest in the University, many programs will need funding when the Legislature meets in February.

“There will be a long line of people asking for money and not a lot of new revenue coming in,” said Stang, Higher Education Finance Committee chairman.

Prettner Solon, however, said she believes the Senate will support bonding bills for the University regardless, and said the petition might be unnecessary.

“I think all of the University’s priorities will be met,” Prettner Solon said.

This year, the University plans to ask for $74 million to renovate Kolthoff Hall, the Mineral Resources Research Center and the Academic Health Center’s Educator Centers on the Twin Cities campus. The total University request will be $188.7 million.

But Stang said giving the University all the money it wants will not be easy, regardless of student support.

“If we’re going to be spending money, we need to find more resources,” Stang said. “If (the University) will be asking us to give them more money, we’ll need suggestions from them on where to find it.”

High-tech lobbying

Stang said that although the petition will not carry less stature because it is electronically compiled, legislators like to hear from people individually.

“A copy obviously does not have the same effect as an individual letter,” Stang said. “Individual letters are more original and more effective.”

Steven Clift, chairman of Minnesota E-Democracy, a Minnesota nonprofit organization that promotes citizen engagement online, said a petition is a petition and should have the same impact whether it is on paper or in an e-mail.

“There’s nothing inherently quaint about a paper petition,” Clift said. “But if the University is smart, they should complement (the e-mail petition) with a clipboard petition. Any petition drive should use a mix of media.”

Mike Dean, Legislative Network coordinator, said he thinks the petition will make a big impact and is optimistic the University will get its request.

“It’s the whole concept that the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Dean said. “We want the grease. We want the capital request from the governor to be similar to what the University proposed.”

Dean said that in the future, the Legislative Network will coordinate other campus events and lobbying to help restore University funding.