With maroon-and-gold banners draped over the railing into the State Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, University of Minnesota supporters from across the state converged in St. Paul to rally support for the University during the legislative session.
Armed with signs reading, “Take from our future, take from yours,” and paper bags reading, “We can’t even afford poster board,” the theme of the day seemed to be keeping costs down for students with the University facing a proposed $151 million cut over the next two years.
Event organizers said they expected more than 300 students to attend and nearly that many filled the Rotunda floor and lined the upper-level railing. Crookston campus alone brought more than 80 students to the rally and the subsequent meetings with legislators.
Speakers included students from each of the University’s campuses, as well as University President Bob Bruininks and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak .
“The state of Minnesota is tempting its youth with access to a college education that they can’t afford,” said Mike McBride , a political science sophomore at the Morris campus, during his speech. “My parents’ dream of an affordable higher education for their children has become a nightmare of excessive debt.”
Rybak told an anecdote about his father and wife, both of whom attended the University.
“The dream of an accessible University of Minnesota for every person in this state is slipping away and slipping away rapidly,” he said. “We cannot allow the dream of an accessible University to go away.”
Touching on the response to past budget problems in the University’s history, Bruininks told the audience of students, faculty and others to share their experiences with lawmakers.
“That’s why you’re here today — to express faith in the University and its purpose, but also to express faith in the University’s value to the future of Minnesota,” he said. “I think your advocacy is one of the most important things you can do to make the case for the University and ensure our long-term future.”
After the rally, many student leaders said they hoped the rally and the meetings with individual legislators would have an impact on policy.
“I’m a little bit skeptical on that,” University senior Ryan Kennedy said. “I think it has the ability to sway some legislators. I think it’s a crap shoot. … I think that the meetings are really where the most effective part of it is.”
With a series of meetings with University students and others on her schedule, Rep. Phyllis Kahn , DFL-Minneapolis, said face-to-face meetings with advocates can have an impact on an issue.
“I think the rally … it certainly doesn’t do any harm,” said Kahn, who represents the University’s district. “Does it move votes? No, but the problem is that it’s a really tough issue.”
In a meeting with a briefing room full of students from the Crookston campus, Rep. Dave Olin , DFL-Thief River Falls, said he considers input from his constituents.
“I pay a lot of attention to people who are willing to take the time from way up in northern Minnesota to come down here,” Olin said. “I take that pretty seriously.”
When asked by a student if the rally had influence on lawmakers in the budget debate, Olin said he was pleased to see so many students attend.
“To me, I’m happy to see students involved,” he said after meeting with the contingency. “They did get involved this last year … they did get going and I love to see it. I’m just hoping they stay involved now.”
Jonatan Mitchell , first-year class president at the University’s Duluth campus, said he liked the feedback he received from meeting with legislators.
“It’s always a struggle to get your voice out there,” he said. “It’s always good to remind them that we’re here and we have a voice.”
-Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter