Students appeal to state for sympathy

By Marissa Meredyth

The Student Government Board revealed a new initiative yesterday to bring students’ voices —… The Student Government Board revealed a new initiative yesterday to bring students’ voices — and faces — to Harrisburg.

The Board is compiling a photo project in anticipation of Pitt Day in Harrisburg. As part of the project, students write a short phrase on a whiteboard about how cuts in education funding will personally impact them. So far, most phrases have been short on content — typically shorter than a 140-character Tweet — and big on emotion.

SGB hopes the phrases of protest will gain the attention of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is calling for a $900 million cut in education funding as a part of his first budget proposal. Pitt officials and some legislators across the state have criticized the budget, setting the stage for a lengthy amendment and approval process.

Pitt’s state funding would be reduced by more than half as a part of the budget, from $185 million to $80.2 million. The budget, which accounts for a multibillion-dollar funding shortfall without raising taxes or fees, still has to go through the state legislature before enactment.

The deadline for the proposal to become law is June 30.

This leaves students with a three-month window of time to express their views, since the cuts could potentially raise tuition and slash University programs.

SGB member Emily Hoover said her intern, sophomore communication major Madeline Beyer, came up with the idea to have students take a picture with a whiteboard after hearing a suggestion to make a “debt yearbook.”

The yearbook project, first proposed by Pitt junior and PennPIRG member Pat Szurkowski, would have paired pictures with student’s debt levels to show legislators how much more debt various students would be in with the proposed Corbett cuts. PennPIRG is an organization that, like SGB, advocates for student civic causes.

So far, Beyer and Hoover have taken about 20 pictures. The pair began taking the photos yesterday during a Student Advocacy Forum with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

Some phrases had a humorous tone, whereas others were more serious.

One student said, “If you cut our funding … I won’t be able to buy dry erase markers.” Another said, “If you cut our funding … my brother won’t be able to join me next year on campus.”

Hoover said the pictures and their short catch phrases will add a personal touch to the issue, something that is important when it comes to influencing legislators on tough policy decisions.

“That is what’s really going to get through [to lawmakers],” she said. “That is what’s real, what’s going to affect people.”

Beyer and Hoover both believe the initiative would work to get politics on the minds of students and hopefully force them to think about how the cuts could have lasting effects on their lives.

Board members Alex Zimmerman and Hoover emphasized how students already seem aware that such dramatic cuts in state funding would mean more than just a rise in tuition.

Hoover cited potential enrollment effects as well, referring to one student who said, “If you cut our funding … you’re down one medical professional.”

Zimmerman said he was impressed by how many students have engaged in budget discussions.

As a kick-off to the letter-writing campaign that will begin today, Zimmerman and Board member Ryan Gayman tabled in Sutherland Lobby yesterday evening.

The Board offered a generic letter for students to sign, but Zimmerman said many students chose to write their own.

“It’s one more way to get the word out,” Hoover said. She warned students not to fear if she suddenly thrusts the whiteboard at them.

Even Nordenberg smiled for a picture with the whiteboard in hand. He altered the original phrase to express a more positive message.

“By restoring our funding, we can continue serving our students,” he wrote.