ASSOU Seeks Student Support to Lobby in Salem

By Shannon Houston

The Associated Students of Southern Oregon University are calling for student action to help lobby for financial support from the state as the university faces retrenchment. The organization held a general assembly on January 28 at 6:00 p.m. in the SU Arena to explain exactly what they are setting out to accomplish and how students can get involved.

The evening began with Max Goldman, ASSOU vice president, addressing a crowded room and explaining the necessity of lobbying for higher education. Tuition has been steadily increasing over the past several years as the state has allocated less and less money towards public universities, forcing students to foot the rest of the bill. According to Goldman, this increase is such that tuition in 2001 was 80% lower than it is currently. He also said this trend is likely to continue unless students take action.

“Future raiders are not going to be able to have the same education and the same opportunities as we have right now,” Goldman said.

After Goldman, ASSOU President Tommy Letchworth took the stage, beginning by speaking of the power students have and referencing past events where students have been the ones making a difference by standing up for their rights.

“Historically, when we mobilize ourselves as a population…we change the world,” said Letchworth.

The group’s main objective is to ask for the $5 million in stimulus funding from the state to cover what the university lacks and what is forcing the school to enter retrenchment. Throughout February, students will be lobbying in the capitol and some, like Letchworth, will be staying up in Salem for the entire month. February 18 will be the Day of Action when as many student volunteers as possible will join the others in Salem to show their support. In the meantime, students will be helping to bring awareness to the issue through social media and on-campus efforts.

“Now, more than ever, we have to stand up and fight back,” said Letchworth. He says students have to remind the state of the value of higher education as well as reminding them how devastated the population would be without it.  However, he does not want students to rely solely on anger when conveying these messages.

“I would encourage you all to act not out of anger or fear but out of love,” said Letchworth.

Letchworth admitted that the task at hand would not be simple, but noted “there is no reward without risk.” He also asked students to consider how they would speak to their children when recounting this time, if they would admit to inaction of be able to say they had participated in change.

Letchworth closed his speech with “The choice is yours, my friends—all we can do is open the door.”

After Letchworth spoke, SOU President Mary Cullinan took the stage, encouraging students in a similar manner.

“This is a really pivotal time, a really challenging time for Southern Oregon University, and for higher education in general,” said Cullinan.

She described a conversation with a graduating student who mentioned feeling sad for SOU considering the current financial struggles. Cullinan said that sad was not the right emotion to feel at a time like this, but instead to be angry towards those who have not valued higher education as much as they should have.

“We are doing everything that we can and we ask for your support,” said Cullinan.

Provost Jim Klein spoke after Cullinan, saying “We have an incredible sense of family on this campus—we know how to pull through and get through difficult times.”

Dylan Bloom, ASSOU director of governmental affairs, later took the stage to lie out the plans for February as the month of action.  In addition to asking for the emergency funding they also hope to begin talks that will prevent a situation like this from happening again, as well as preventing future increases in tuition. They will also make it known that SOU is in favor of having its own institutional board.

Bloom described the different levels of support students could lend over this time, including simple actions like being an active social media presence to actually participating in lobbying in Salem. Though the group is hoping to avoid this step, some students are also prepared to stay the night if need be.

ASSOU Director of Communications Kristi Wright also spoke, saying, “We need to show our whole state that higher education is a good investment.”

They encouraged students to like the Oregon Opportunity Movement Facebook page and to talk to people to raise awareness for the month of action. One of the things the Oregon Opportunity Movement is doing is holding a contest for students to make 60-second videos explaining why they think higher education is important. Students have until February 28 to enter submissions, and have the chance to win the first-place prize of an IPod Nano.

To finish out the evening, Letchworth performed a hip-hop song written, mixed and recorded by students to accompany their lobbying efforts. A music video will be coming in the next few weeks, part of which was shot during the assembly, displaying the crowded room full of concerned individuals. The crowd then broke apart into smaller groups to learn how they could get involved with this effort according to their interests.

ASSOU asks for as many students as possible to get involved in one way or another to show collective concern surrounding the future of higher education.

“You can help spark the change,” said Wright.

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