Pitt student governments launch letter writing campaign

By Gwenn Barney

When Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans earlier this month to slice the University’s state… When Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans earlier this month to slice the University’s state appropriation in half, some Pitt students had one question in mind: What can they do to help prevent the cuts?

Student Government Board president Molly Stieber received a number of e-mails asking that same question, and she replied with a uniform statement.

“We as the students need to make our case,” she said.

So far, SGB and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly have worked together to make that case and defend Pitt’s state appropriation. Their most recent endeavor involves a letter-writing campaign in the William Pitt Union, which will run today from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The groups will supply paper, stamps and envelopes for any student who stops in the Lower Lounge to write a letter asking their representative to vote against the budget cut.

“We have the supplies there for students,” GSPA president Nila Devanath said. “All we need is for people to come.”

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg kicked off the event with an address to a gathering of about 120 students last night in the William Pitt Union. Nordenberg emphasized the negative impact Corbett’s proposed budget cuts pose for the University, noting how state funding keeps in-state tuition costs lower. He also encouraged students to share their personal stories with legislators and interact with the lawmakers respectfully.

“No one can comment more efficiently than you can on what this means to you as a student, what it means to your family and how it might have an impact on the plans you have put in place,” he said.

Nordenberg indicated that he would not tell students what actions to take during his speech but rather left it up to the student body to carve its responsive path against the budget cuts.

He also said he believes representatives have been and will continue to be receptive to student voices.

“Members of the legislature from both political parties are not resistant to what you have to say, but feel themselves this is not the direction to go,” he said.

Although a large portion of Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives oppose the higher education budget cuts, many Republican members support them. The campaign organizers hope that an inundation of letters from students to the State House might encourage members of the House who support the budget cuts to change their vote.

“A lot of students are from areas represented by Republicans,” Devanath said.

Devanath and Stieber agreed that students might be able to appeal to these representatives with personal stories highlighting their connection to both the representatives’ districts and their Pitt education.

“Letters are a lot more personal than e-mails,” Stieber said. “Writing a letter takes time, sending a letter takes time, so [state representatives] are more inclined to open a hand written envelope and read the letter inside.”

The letter-writing campaign is the latest in a series of efforts by students to counter the proposed budget cuts. On March 30, SGB and GPSA will stage a rally on the Union Lawn, and on April 5 students will travel to the state capital for Pitt Day in Harrisburg, where they will lobby legislators on the issue.

“Letters are great. Phone banks are great. But the most impactful thing is for students to meet with legislators face to face,” Devanath said.