Last week, a group of my fellow Truman State students and I had the opportunity to go to Jefferson City, Missouri, for Truman’s lobbying day at the Capitol. While there, I met with many members of the Missouri General Assembly, some of whom were Truman alumni. Almost every senator and representative I spoke to told me they thought Truman was a fine university and commended the students for our work ethic and intelligence. In the end, I left Jefferson City and returned to Kirksville sure Truman would have a budget in line with Gov. Jay Nixon’s recommendation — a budget increase of 5.5 percent.
I was wrong.
Recently, the House Appropriations-Higher Education Committee reduced the budget increase from 5.5 percent to 2 percent, according to an email sent to Truman faculty and staff by University President Troy Paino. However, Truman might not even get that increase, according to the same email. Instead, the money would be placed into a reserve fund, to be accessed only if state revenue reached a certain amount, according to the email.
Here’s the thing — Truman might not find out whether the state revenue reached that target level until June, long after the University has finalized its budget. This means Truman’s budget for next year will be decided under the assumption the University will receive no increase in state support. For a public university trying to provide a quality education to an increasingly demanding student body, this is devastating.
When I came back from Jefferson City, I thought the Missouri General Assembly was finally on the side of higher education. Now, however, I realize even though the other students and I lobbying for Truman managed to speak to many legislators, we didn’t speak with enough. There were only about 30 of us who went to Jefferson City and spoke to legislators. To those legislators, we are the face of Truman.
But so are you.
During a recent Truman Media Network interview, Paino said he think students and their parents are the most powerful voices — a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. Truman students, the members of the Missouri General Assembly were elected to serve you, but if they don’t know what you want, they can’t serve your best interests. Sure, a small group of us can go and speak to legislators, but most of the time, we’re not from their district, so we’re not the people they care about. But if you and your parents contact your representative and senator — the people you and your parents elected — and introduce yourself as a constituent and as a Truman student, you’re standing out from the crowd. You’re giving them a reason to care.
When it comes to raising awareness, actively contacting your legislator is of the utmost importance. As the General Assembly starts debating the state budget and the line-item that is Truman comes up, the legislators are going to remember you — the bright young student you are — and all the hopes you have for your future. They’re going to remember you asking them to appropriate some more money for higher education. They’re going to remember you talking about the budget cuts at Truman, about how sad you are the University can’t afford to fund the programs and events you want to see, and about all the professors you admire so much who are leaving because their salaries just don’t cut it.
This midterm break, while you’re away from campus and at home, talk to your parents about lobbying for Truman. Although you might be on vacation, the General Assembly is still in session. So don’t be afraid to contact your legislator — if you’re not sure who they are, go to house.mo.gov or senate.mo.gov to find out — and introduce yourself. Make this midterm break a time for civic engagement.
You don’t have to go to Jefferson City like I did just to talk to your legislator. A phone call and an email are just as effective. Just let them know you exist. Let them know you’re taking action.
Out-of-state students, this affects you too. You might not have a Missouri legislator, but instead of throwing your hands up in the air and pretending there’s nothing you can do, contact Speaker Todd Richardson or Sen. Ron Richard, the President Pro Tempore. Let them know you have an interest. You might not be a constituent of a district in Missouri, but there’s no doubt the decisions made by the 98th General Assembly affect you.
“I would certainly encourage all students and their families to let their local legislators know how critically important it is that they support higher education,” Paino said during the same recent interview.
Come on everyone. Do one last thing for T-Pain.
This staff editorial originally appeared in the March 3 issue of the Index.