SOU students have secured $500,000 of emergency funding after a month-long effort of lobbying Oregon politicians. The battle to receive funds was long winded, and student representatives were initially met with skepticism and opposition. ASSOU came home having won 10% of their initial goal of 5 million dollars.
Student body president Tommy Letchworth said that when the lobbying campaign first began, “people were giving us looks like who the heck are these kids, if they were paying attention at all. By the end all the legislator staffers knew me on a first name basis.”
It took time for SOU students to gain ground with senators on the issues of higher education reform.
“People (were) being woefully ignorant of the state of higher education . . . telling us that we were lying to their faces until we busted out the numbers,” said Letchworth.
The opinion of Oregon politicians changed from denial of money being available, to $1 million dollars being invested in higher education. The $1 million was split between SOU and Eastern Oregon University. Legislators identified a reserve in the chancellor’s office that money could be drawn from.
One of the key players in the SOU victory was local representative Peter Buckley who is a co-chair of the Ways and Means committee, which writes the Oregon State budget proposals. Student campaigners said that they went to Senator Buckley’s office almost every day while trying to gain political leverage. Senator Buckley and fellow Co-chair Richard Devlin created the budget proposal that gave SOU and EOU emergency funding.
The Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU), the lead organizers in the lobbying campaign, modeled their initial strategy after the Dream Defenders organization in Florida. The ASSOU originally planned on occupying the Oregon State capitol building overnight if they did not receive $5 million in emergency funding. The sit-in was canceled when students realized that the state did not have the money or political willpower to grant $5 million in emergency funds.
ASSOU will now focus its efforts on overseeing how the funds granted will be spent at SOU. They are in the early stages of the process of having a voice in the budgeting.
The victory was bitter-sweet for some of the campaigners. The $500,000 was double what the ASSOU expected to get, but it would have taken $5 million to allow SOU to avoid the retrenchment.
ASSOU has not given up their fight to get more state funding in the future. When reflecting on the progress of the lobbying campaign, Letchworth said, “the idea to do what we did came from two people. It was implemented by about 13 people. So imagine if all 6,200 of us stood up and did something.”
ASSOU plans on fighting for more long term funding of public universities next year when the long legislative session comes.