Students nationwide set to lobby Congress

Tom Lopez

Graduate and professional students from the University and across the country hope to present a united front to members of Congress as they take up higher education issues.
Members of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students plan to educate and mobilize students to lobby for the resolutions outlined in their 1997 Federal Legislative Platform.
“In the higher education community, the national association is the only student group that presents a cohesive, unified agenda to the (national) legislature,” said Sean OhmsWinnie, the legislative liaison for the University’s Graduate and Professional Student Association.
“Their lobbying tactics are effective without being aggressive. They’re working for the benefit of all students, not just graduate and professional.”
The national association held its annual conference in Santa Monica, Calif., and adopted its platform Oct. 27. Only two days into this year’s session, its uncertain whether students will have an impact on Congress, but OhmsWinnie is optimistic that lawmakers will be receptive.
“Both Congressional leadership and the Clinton administration are trying to one-up each other in trying to help American families send their kids to college,” he said. “It’s nice to see them trying to one-up each other for the students’ sake, rather than the opposite, which is usually the case.”
OhmsWinnie said he considered last year’s session to be a positive step for higher education, and expects the upward trend to continue this session.
“Many weren’t sure what the so-called ‘(1994 Republican) revolution’ would bring,” he said. “In 1995 things looked kind of scary for higher education. The legislation coming out the House in general was conservative to the point where it had a negative effect on students. Things took a 180 degree turnaround in ’96. At the end of the session, things looked positive for students, and it was a pleasant surprise.”
OhmsWinnie cited the lack of drastic higher education cuts, and increased funding for the Pell Grant and Perkins Loan programs as examples of positive steps taken by last year’s Congress. “It felt to the higher education community like a victory hard-won,” he said.
OhmsWinnie said he attributes the upswing in Congressional support partly to the national association’s lobbying tactics, which he said provided “an effective statement of the plight of students today.”
Susan Giesler Daniels, the vice-president for internal affairs in the Council of Graduate Studies, credits the success to the motivational efforts of the national association. She said when an important bill concerning higher education arises, a legislative concerns coordinator sends e-mail messages to graduate and professional students and student governments across the country, advising them of lobbying opportunities and techniques.
“They’re good at getting students to realize that we have a voice in Congress, and if we don’t use that voice we’re going to get stepped on,” she said.
Giesler Daniels and OhmsWinnie represented the University’s roughly 13,000 graduate and professional students at the Santa Monica conference, and voted on several resolutions. Giesler Daniels said the University is an important part of the national association, and attributed that importance to GAPSA and the Council of Graduate Students.
“We have a voice on just about every issue that comes across, from parking to tenure,” she said. “A lot of graduate and professional students don’t have such a voice in their universities, and they look to us as a guide.”
The Student Legislative Coalition at the University of Minnesota is currently working on a legislative platform much like that of the national association. The coalition, formerly the University of Minnesota Coalition for Higher Education, represents undergraduate and graduate students. The platform will reflect input from both student bodies.
GAPSA President Bruce Bromberek said unified representation is a good means of effective lobbying.
“It’s a nice idea that we strive for,” he said. “It’s an instance of both groups working together for the purposes of higher education. Many times our goals are similar, we just don’t realize it.”