UI reps lobby at Capitol for Hawkeye Caucus Day

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | APRIL 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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DES MOINES — Lobbying Iowa legislators may have become a year-round affair for advocates of the University of Iowa community.

The roughly 80 students, staff, and faculty in Des Moines for the first-ever Hawkeye Caucus Day on Tuesday all seemed to agree they need to make a larger effort to show Iowa politicians year-round what the university brings to the state.

In the past, many UI community members contacted state legislators when asking for something. But now — whether through trips to the Capitol, letter-writing campaigns, or other innovative methods — they want to interact with politicians more frequently in hopes they will defend funding Iowa’s regents institutions in the future.

UIPresident Sally Mason, interim Provost Barry Butler, representatives from 22 colleges and divisions at the UI — along with Herky the Hawk — attended the grass-roots event on Tuesday aimed to spread awareness of the university’s positive impact on Iowans.

For students in attendance, lobbying was no longer about next year’s cost of schooling. The state Board of Regents has approved a 5 percent increase in tuition for in-state residents and 6 percent for those from out of state.

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Instead, representatives from the student organization-in-the-making, Hawkeye Caucus, said they hope a continued presence at in Des Moines would influence next year’s budget talks.

“The regents raised tuition, but now it’s just emphasis on all the wonderful things about the university,” said Abbey Moffitt, an undergraduate intern for the initiative. “So [legislators] continue to think about that and continue to have them in their thoughts all the time.”

Sixteen graduate students met with legislators throughout the day to discuss reasonable and sustainable funding, as well as the effect the university has on lives across the state.

And while legislators said they were glad to have “open, honest conversation” about the state’s budget with students, they agreed young people shouldn’t forget to lobby their university administration and the regents as well.

“My best advice to students would be to lobby us and let us know how it affects them personally,” said Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton. “Lobby the Legislature to give you the resources and the tuition aid, but at the same time, lobby the members of the Board of Regents and lobby the administration to continue to find efficiencies.”

Mason said she agreed students should reach out past the legislature.

“I like to think that we continue to work hard to do our part,” she said, standing in a room at the Statehouse. “If the regents and legislators and those of us at the university are doing this together — we’ll come through this just fine just like any other disaster.”

Lyndsay Harshman, the president of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, said she is excited by the positive response they received from legislators on Tuesday.

“I was really pleased,” she said. “It’s exciting to know representatives and senators recognize us as students, they recognize our faces, they recognize who we are, and we know that we’re educated about our mission and why we’re there and they’re willing to talk to us.”

Kaufmann spent an hour with Hawkeye Caucus students in the House Chamber, discussing the possibility of tax incentives, family planning, and locked-in tuition for next year’s legislative session.

Ultimately, he said, he would love to work with representatives on the other side of the aisle, as well as with students, to work toward solutions to tuition and dwindling state appropriations.

“I think it would be wonderful to create a bill on the house floor and say this came from university students,” Kaufmann said. “There is nothing better than that.”

The advocacy initiative Hawkeye Caucus initially started in January, and UI Governmental Relations Director Peter Matthes — who organized the group made up of faculty and students — said members plan to engage with legislators as much as possible in the future.

Moffitt said the student organization will reach out to more of the undergraduate population next fall.

Ultimately, Harshman said the goal of Hawkeye Caucus is to have a student representative from each district of Iowa.

“We want every legislator in the state to be able to put a student face to the district,” she said.

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