Students trained for Pitt Day in Harrisburg

Parthena Moisiadis | February 29, 2012    

Two Pitt administrators assumed the roles of a student and a state legislator… Two Pitt administrators assumed the roles of a student and a state legislator Tuesday.

“Good afternoon, Senator. Nice to meet you. I’m a voter in your district and I’d really like to talk to you about funding for Pitt,” said Charles McLaughlin, Pitt’s director of commonwealth relations. “State funds keep our tuition low, and that’s why we’re here today — to ask to stop cuts to Pitt.”

The “legislator” responded:

“We have no choice. We have to spend money on prisons and public welfare. You are bright kids, but it’s going to be tough to find money to put in the budget,” said Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for governmental relations.

The role-playing dialogue was a model for a training session held by Pitt’s Student Government Board and the Community and Governmental Relations office to prep students for Pitt Day in Harrisburg. On March 13, Pitt students will talk to legislators at the state capital to protest Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget, which would cut Pitt’s funding by 30 percent.

“This year it is vitally important to send out the message that cuts need to stop and reductions need to end,” SGB President James Landreneau said.

Although more than 170 students have registered for Pitt Day in Harrisburg so far, only about 15 students attended the one-hour session in the William Pitt Union.

“It’s a tough week. It’s right before Spring Break,” Supowitz said, referring to the training session’s attendance.

Participants who did not attend the training will watch a recording of the meeting that will play on the buses as Pitt students make the three-and-a-half-hour trek east.

Landreneau said that the training session provided students with an opportunity to learn about the process of lobbying and talking to a senator. There will be another training session on Thursday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the William Pitt Union.

“It will help them approach the situation head-on,” he said.

Supowitz said that students should be respectful yet direct when speaking with legislators — he advised the soon-to-be lobbyists to “look [legislators] straight in the eye.”

“Tell them that Pitt is a top research institution and that we need to keep it public,” Supowitz said.

McLaughlin added to the advice, saying that students should not be nervous about memorizing facts and figures.

“Speak from the heart,” he said. “It’s the personal stories that work. You have to remember that legislators are regular people like your mom or dad.”

Last year, Corbett proposed cutting funding to the four state-related universities by 50 percent, and the budget passed with a 19 percent cut to state funding.

Landreneau said that he hopes students will continue to register for Pitt Day in Harrisburg so that the numbers reach last year’s attendance of 200 students. Online registration ends Thursday.

Supowitz said that students should plan to speak with Republican legislators, as they hold the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“The proposal is in the hands of the legislators. The Republican administration is in control. Those are our targets. It is vital to see these Republican legislators, as they will control the process,” he said.

McLaughlin said that legislators appreciate student input in the legislative process.

“We always get tremendous feedback,” he said. “Students are always respectful and knowledgeable. The training helps, but it really speaks to the caliber of the students.”

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