By Kayla Wamsley and Alyx Duckett
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Despite the rain, a small group of Virginia Commonwealth University students gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby state legislators at Rams Day on the Hill.
The event, sponsored by VCU’s Student Government Association, allows participants to meet with lawmakers and lobby for bills that affect the university.
Matt Harris, political affairs aide for the SGA, said students need to get involved in mustering support for higher education.
“We live in a democratic society. And if students don’t get involved, higher education – VCU in particular – is going to get ignored,” Harris said. “If we want to have the changes that we all obviously want, we’re going to have to go and talk to our representatives.”
The students were talking to legislators about such measures as:
House Bill 2510 and Senate Bill 1459, the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011. It “puts in place a model for stable and predictable state funding support, relieving the upward pressure on tuition over time as state funding rebounds,” an SGA fact sheet said. The legislation would pump $50 million of new state funding into higher education.
SB 747, which would prohibit discrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status and medical conditions.
HB 1505, the Higher Educational Institutions Bond Act of 2011. It “provides necessary funding that allows VCU to build critically needed residence hall space,” according to the SGA fact sheet.
HB 1435, which would require colleges to count American Sign Language courses taken in high school toward foreign language entrance requirements.
Ian Jordan, who chairs the Legislative Issues and Civic Action Committee of the SGA, said he believes students care about pocketbook issues such as tuition and social justice issues such as nondiscrimination.
“These are important things to students; these things affect students,” Jordan said.
Other student priorities during the General Assembly session include faculty and staff compensation, base adequacy funding and revisions in the state budget.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed revising the state budget in ways that would both hurt and help the university. He recommended:
Cutting VCU’s state funding by more than $17 million to punish the school for raising in-state undergraduate tuition and fees by 24 percent last spring. The cut would be equivalent to half of the money raised by the tuition increase.
Paying VCU $3.3 million for an East Broad Street parking lot that is the site of a historic slave burial ground. In exchange, VCU would transfer the property to the city of Richmond.
Awarding $5 million for VCU’s Massey Cancer Center to strengthen its research program and “meet the National Cancer Institute’s requirements for designation as a comprehensive cancer center.”
Jazmin Tanner, a senator for the SGA, is an out-of-state student who participated in Wednesday’s lobbying. Although not every bill affects her, she supports the idea of keeping tuition low for in-state students.
“I definitely support all the things my school is going for because anything that can save people money, I think, is fair,” Tanner said.