MPIRG’s history deserves ongoing support

We at the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group are saddened to see this year’s editorial board break with its long tradition of support. If the editorial board had the real facts about MPIRG’s history, mission and accomplishments on behalf of University students, we believe the board would have followed years of precedent in supporting MPIRG’s mission of involving students in the civic process and in supporting the fair and democratic refusable and refundable fee.
We appreciate the opportunity to clear up some inaccuracies in the board’s editorial.
The MPIRG fee is actually $2.75, and has been for three years, since the Student Services Fees Committee endorsed the increase to support a full-time consumer advocate for the MPIRG staff. It is a refusable and refundable fee, which means a student can refuse to pay it at the beginning of each term, and can collect a refund of the fee at any time during the term.
“But why does MPIRG alone have access to this powerful funding mechanism?” It doesn’t. The Student Legislative Coalition (formerly UMCHE) also has a refusable and refundable fee and also is engaged in direct legislative advocacy on behalf of students. In fact, any group which meets the Student Services Fees Committee’s criteria can obtain non-mandatory fees.
Many other student organizations have an even more powerful funding mechanism: a mandatory fee. This includes The Minnesota Daily, which of course is full of political content. Should the Daily lose its funding because some members of the community disagree with some of the political opinions the Daily supports? Obviously not, and MPIRG is staunchly defending the right of organizations like the Daily to receive mandatory fees money even though, especially in this case, the paper takes a position with which MPIRG disagrees.
As for the accusation that MPIRG has a “consistent liberal agenda” and “ideological orthodoxy …” MPIRG works on what its student members want to work on. Any student paying the fee can be part of the process of choosing MPIRG campaigns.
MPIRG students have chosen in the past to work on a whole range of issues, from preservation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to tax relief through the renters’ tax credit. MPIRG helped establish the University Student Regent position, the Program Against Sexual Violence and the University Recycling Program.
This year, MPIRG is working with the former Republican, and now the Reform administration, through the Department of Natural Resources, to distribute the $4 million MPIRG won for the Metro Greenways and Natural Areas Program. Other MPIRG students are working on numerous other issues.
“If people really and truly believe in MPIRG’s mission, they should have no trouble generating funds …” Students really and truly believe in MPIRG, and that is why over 21,000 signed a majority petition over 27 years ago to establish the organization. That is why a majority of students consistently pay the fee, and why in official University studies, a vast majority wish to continue the MPIRG refusable and refundable system. However, students want a public interest organization working for them that is stable and efficient, not one that spends all its time fund raising or providing inconsistent levels of educational services and advocacy quarter to quarter. That is the reason students chose and continue to choose to fund MPIRG through a refusable and refundable fee, not a “donation” system.
MPIRG has worked for 28 years to advocate for students’ interests and to engage students more fully in the political, social and cultural issues of the times. We believe as a fellow student organization, we also deserve the support of the Daily, whose mission is so closely related to our own.
Danielle Nugent,Chair, MPIRG State Board of Directors,Senior in Political Science & Communications, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Lea Schuster,MPIRG Executive Director