Students rally for U funding

Maggie Hessel-Mial

While most college students were asleep in their beds, Nate Saete was en route to the Capitol at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Along with approximately 100 other Crookston campus students, Saete approached St. Paul hoping to make a difference in the fight for increased University funding from the state Legislature.

Approximately 500 students and their respective mascots from all four University campuses crowded the Capitol’s Rotunda. Students were eager to meet, and show their dedication to state higher education, at the Student Legislative Coalition’s Lobby Day.

“I thought this was a great opportunity to come and represent the students and what the students need,” said Duluth campus freshman Andres Torres. “I came here to make a difference.”

Signs decorated the building to voice student opinion on capital requests and operating budget costs.

One poster, aimed at showing how tough the tuition increases have been at Duluth, read: “The Top Ten Ways UMD Students Pay Their Tuition.” and included loans, working three jobs, plasma donations, collecting cans and praying for inheritance as sources of income.

“You’re a public resource,” University President Mark Yudof told the students. “It’s just not smart to cut higher education because the economy is soft. When the economy is soft we need to invest more and not less in our young people.”

For most of the day, visiting students got the opportunity to meet with their local legislators.

Torres said he and others from Duluth met with Rep. Eric Lipman, R-Lake Elmo, and received positive feedback about their issues.

“He was really concerned with what we had to say and with our opinions as a whole,” Torres said.

Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan and chairwoman of the Higher Education Budget Division, spoke to students in a session filled with undertainty about her dedication to higher education.

“Our economy needs good workers,” Wiener said. “You are our economic engine.”

Yudof and legislators urged students to call senators and representatives to get their point across.

“Do not be intimidated,” Wiener said.

Intimidated is something Twin Cities campus student Khaled Dajani is not.

He said he came to Lobby Day to exemplify the need for a student presence at the Capitol and show other students they have a voice.

“We need to show (legislators) that we’re not just 50,000 non-voters who have no impact on their political careers,” Dajani said. “We have a big impact.”

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he thought student involvement in government, such as Lobby Day, was important.

Sviggum said he expects the Legislature to cut less from University appropriations than Gov. Jesse Ventura’s proposed $33 million cut.

But he said he was concerned about exactly how much to cut from the University.

“I had heard that after Ventura outlined his budget reduction scenario, the University and (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) accepted the numbers and had expected the numbers to be worse,” Sviggum said. “If the University is accepting Ventura’s numbers, they can’t expect the House and Senate would do much less.”

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said he is confident the Senate’s bonding and operating budget bills will be more generous to the University than Ventura’s.

“We intend to have more in the bonding bill than the governor and fewer cuts on the base budget,” Moe said.

Students system-wide said they were hopeful this session would benefit their school buildings and pocketbooks.

“We’re paying thousands of dollars in tuition to go to school,” Torres said. “To not take an active role means we won’t have our say. Students have a big influence here.”

Anticipation from University administration about the funding reductions has been cautious but concerned.

“Any way we have to absorb cuts at the University of Minnesota won’t be good for students,” Yudof told rallying students. “Hang tough.”