University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler spoke in front of an estimated 500-plus crowd Wednesday night, calling students, faculty and alumni to support the University during the legislative session.
While the University is making its own case to the Legislature, it will rely on current and former student voices to convince legislators why the school is a good investment.
“There is nothing more important to legislators than what their constituents are thinking,” said Linda Cohen, chair of the University Board of Regents, who spoke briefly and identified the role students and alumni can play as advocates.
Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed an $80 million increase in funding for tuition relief at the University.
While the proposal is a good sign for the University, the funds depend on legislators and a review of University spending.
From Twitter to “good old fashioned talking
face-to-face,” Kaler said to the audience at McNamara Alumni Center, any form of communication with politicians can be effective.
The University organized the tables in the main hall by legislative district with information about their respective representatives so attendees would know who to contact.
The crowd was enthusiastic and at one point erupted into applause after Kaler promised to freeze tuition.
Making his case for more funding, Kaler said Minnesota’s funding for higher education has decreased more over the last 12 years than the national average.
Kaler also plugged the upcoming “Support the U Rally Day” at the Capitol as an important event for advocates.
Matt Forstie, chair of the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition, which serves as the student lobbying body of the University, is helping to organize the rally.
The mathematics and finance junior has testified in front of higher education committees in the past and said he spends a couple of days per week at the Capitol lobbying for students when the Legislature is in session.
Forstie said he became involved as an advocate for students during his freshman year and said the rally is a way for University students to meet legislators and show them what their education is doing for them.
“We’re a public institution and receive public funding, so [legislators] should see the results of our work and what we’re doing.”
Kaler, legislators and some “surprise” students will speak at the event, Forstie said.
The event also featured surprise guest speaker Bill Burton, a former deputy press secretary for President Barack Obama.
Burton, a 1999 University English graduate, became involved in politics while a student at the University and recently co-founded a super PAC to help Obama get re-elected.
Burton said the University opened up a world of possibilities for him, and he was happy to come back to support it.
“It offers such a broad and diverse range of experience,” he said. “It really sets you up for anything.”
Burton, from Buffalo, N.Y., said he didn’t originally have the University on his college radar, but after visiting he loved it so much it ended up being the only school he applied to.
Two state legislators, Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, and Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, also registered to attend the event.
As the University gathers support from students and alumni, they’ll hope to gather steam to convince a state facing a $1.1 billion deficit that the University is a worthy investment.