Hamerlinck is right: Go home, student lobbyists

BY GUEST OPINION | JUNE 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Earlier this month, college students invited by the state Board of Regents traveled to Des Moines to protest increasing tuition. The cause of this, at least according to these students, was the cutting of university funds by the Legislature.

If you’ve been following the news in the past few weeks, you probably know what happened next. State Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, who sits on the state Senate committee the students were lobbying, told the students to “go home” and to “leave the [political] circus” to the Legislature.

It doesn’t take Rahm Emanuel or Karl Rove to know that Sen. Hamerlinck’s comments didn’t go over too well. There was outrage, there were apologies, there was even a Huffington Post article or two — but was the senator from the 42nd district out of line? In my opinion, no.

The Legislature determines how much money is given to the universities, however the Legislature does not tell the universities how much money to use. Unlike other state agencies that must reduce spending when budgets are cut, the universities do no such thing. This creates a situation in which university spending outpaces what is reasonable given the current economic recession.

If there is a shortfall, the universities have other sources of income besides tax dollars. This is where tuition comes into play; if the Legislature cuts the universities’ budget, the universities respond by raising tuition.

The regent universities are just like every other part of the government; there is waste. For example, Iowa State recently purchased 42 solar-powered trash cans at a cost of $180,000. Don’t get me wrong, these trash cans are awesome and sometimes make me feel like I’m walking around in the Death Star, but at the end of the day, I’m going to throw my trash in them. Spending nearly 200 grand on futuristic trash cans may be something that the university can do when state revenues are high, but we don’t live in those times right now.

The state’s finances are in a precarious position. Gov. Terry Branstad and Republican legislators are trying to fix our state’s budget problem but are being cast as villains by the university administration. Unlike the previous administration, there are no federal stimulus funds to help in time of need. If you don’t think this is at least somewhat politically motivated, ask yourself where similar outrage was when Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, cut university funding by 10 percent last year.

The last thing we, as college students, need is a tuition hike — but the only way the universities will agree to bring their spending under control is if their cash cows, the students, demand it. This problem didn’t start under the golden dome in Des Moines; it started in Ames, Iowa City, and Cedar Falls. Our anger over the increasing education costs in a decreasing job market should be brought to the universities, and the administration should have to face us instead of leading a parade of students to the Statehouse. If we’re going to fix the problem, we should take Hamerlinck’s advice and “go home.”

Chase Hunter is the vice chairman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans and a student at Iowa State University.

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