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Volume 72, Issue 97, Wednesday, February 21, 2007


A capitol crusade

Hundreds of UH supporters head to Austin to promote University's priorities to state legislators

The Daily Cougar

The Texas Capitol was awash in a sea of scarlet red T-shirts as UH students, administrators and alumni crisscrossed its halls.

Some 250 students, many of them organization leaders, traveled to Austin in a trip organized by Cougar Advocates for Texas -- an alumni advocacy organization -- to both thank lawmakers for their support and to seek more funding for the University. 

Students spoke with lawmakers and their staff personally in an effort to convince legislators to vote in favor of allocating more funds to UH and to vote in favor of bills that would help the University.

"It's very important to legislators that students appear because (they) are using the services that we're trying to help provide and to hear your stories on what's working and what's not, that helps us make better decisions," Rep. Geanie Morrison, D-Victoria, said. 

Students gathered at the O'Quinn Great Hall at the Athletic/Alumni Center early Tuesday morning, filing into buses for the trip. Once they arrived at the Capitol, advocates filled nearly half of the upper balcony in the Senate wing as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called the Senate to order at the beginning of the day's business.

Students were split into groups and assigned lawmakers to speak to on behalf of UH. On the way to the Capitol, trip leaders delivered short lessons on how to best represent the University's interests. 

Advocates then navigated the Capitol's labyrinthine undergroud corridors, searching for lawmaker's offices. 

Students speaking directly with legislators and their staff provided a direct link to those attending Universities that legislators appreciate, said Mark Annas, a political consultant and UH alumnus who accompanied a team of students to speak with lawmakers.

"If they don't see the results like the students or alumni, then all they are going to think about is ... where they went to school," Annas said. "By and large, most of them went to (The University of Texas) or Texas A&M, so when they're thinking college they're thinking UT or A&M, so that's how the funding goes out."

Though some of the policy goals have been achieved during this session, such as an increase in the Higher Education Fund, which supports classroom and lab renovations, many goals have yet to be realized.

Asking for an increase in funding is part of UH's 2007 legislative agenda, a plan set by the University mapping out policy goals for the state's 80th Congressional session. Much of the agenda's long-term goals are to help UH achieve "Tier I" or flagship status, a classification shared by both UT and A&M. UH has been striving to become Texas' third "Tier I" university for a number of years.

"We are the largest city in the country without a ‘Tier I' research university," David Rosen, Student Government Association vice president, said. "At best it's frustrating; at worst it's insulting."

One part of the drive is to ask for more of the state's Faculty Excellence Fund, which the University would use to hire 150 new faculty members over the next few years.

Advocates also asked for full funding of the state's Research Development Fund, from which the University received around $10.25 million in 2006-07, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

In addition to a funding increase, the University sought an increase in grants, as opposed to student loans. Loans can disproportionally affect UH students negatively, many of whom are non-traditional students or are the first in their families to attend college. 

The trip was paid largely by alumni donations. Around $10,000 helped to subsidize the cost of buses, a luncheon and T-shirts for students. 

"We asked some of our alumni who have supported CATS in the past to sponsor some of our students," Tonja Jones, vice president for Alumni and Student Programs, said. "We've gotten an outpour of response from them, a positive response from alumni wanting to assist student leaders wanting to get to Austin."

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