Pitt sends more than 350 letters to legislators

By Gwenn Barney

State legislatures are going to get a lot of mail in the next few days.

The letter-writing… State legislatures are going to get a lot of mail in the next few days.

The letter-writing campaign organized by the Student Government Board and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly collected more than 350 letters this week, leading its organizers to call the campaign a success.

Student groups organized the event after Corbett announced his first budget proposal on March 8, which would cut $900 million in education spending. This would reduce Pitt’s $185 million state appropriation by about half, to $80.2 million. State legislators will hold hearings on the budget throughout April before setting a date to vote on it. The University received $7 million in federal stimulus funding which ends this year, contributing to the drop.

All the letters written by students, faculty and administrators asked Pennsylvania legislators to vote against the proposed reduction in Pitt’s state appropriations. The majority of the letters were written as part of a letter-writing campaign kick-off, which took place in the William Pitt Union on Wednesday.

GPSA president Nila Devanath said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of letters written.

“I wasn’t really sure how many students to expect,” Devanath said. “I was thinking ‘if we get 60 people, I’ll be happy.’”

SGB president Molly Stieber estimated that the student organizations have collected more than 350 letters so far.

Some people would visit the letter-writing campaign’s headquarters in the Union’s Lower Lounge to pick up supplies and bring them to an entire office or classroom to increase the number of letters written.

The success of Wednesday’s letter-writing efforts has student leaders considering the possibility of weekly letter-writing events in the Union beginning next week and continuing on for the remainder of the semester.

“I think when you have a consistent day of the week, students can say, ‘I couldn’t come this week, but maybe I can come next week.’” Steiber said.

She also acknowledged that letter-writing will become even more important after Pitt Day in Harrisburg April 5, when it will become more of a reinforcement tool.

Students who have written or plan to write letters are including descriptions of how the budget cuts might negatively impact them on a personal level or the University population on a larger scale.

Sophomore Olivia Armstrong plans to include in her letter concerns about a possible increase in tuition for Pitt’s rehabilitation science program. “My program brought me to Pitt and I would hate for it to be what drove me away because it’s too expensive,” she said.

Though Bethany Ground won’t return to Pitt next year after she graduates, the senior plans to write to state officials on behalf of students who will be at the University for years to come.

“Cutting funding means less money for scholarships and increased tuition,” she said. “There shouldn’t be those obstacles for people.”

Students who missed the opportunity to write a letter Wednesday can still independently turn in letters to the SGB office to have them sent to Harrisburg.

SGB and GPSA have two more major events planned in addition to the possibility of a second letter-writing campaign. On March 30, the two groups will stage a rally on the Union Lawn at noon, and on April 5, students will travel to the state capital for Pitt Day in Harrisburg, where they will lobby legislators on the issue.