Editorial: Lobbying for Pitt still vital amid sour economy

By Pitt News Staff

The typical image of a lobbyist involves an individual clad in a suit vexing some… The typical image of a lobbyist involves an individual clad in a suit vexing some Washington politician about the interests of a big tobacco company.

But here’s a type of lobbyist who just doesn’t fit that mold: the Pitt student.

Last month, three buses full of Pitt students, alumni and University administrators traveled to Harrisburg to lobby for more money for Pitt. The group beseeched Pennsylvania legislators in response to Gov. Ed Rendell’s freeze on state funding for Pitt.

Pitt’s governmental relations office organized the trip and collaborated with Student Government Board to enlist students for the lobbying effort.

Colleges and college students are both directly and indirectly involved with lobbying. Despite all the negativity and political scorn associated with this activity, it’s necessary in upholding Pitt’s interests. Because the majority of issues lobbyists advocate relate to money, the results of lobbying — both good and bad — influence all aspects of Pitt’s functioning.

SGB and other student groups work to influence elected officials on federal, state and local levels. But in addition to students involved with the process, Pitt spent $690,000 last year alone on lobbying expenses at the federal level.

Although the amount spent on lobbying varies each year, the University might decrease the amount of money it spends on lobbying in an effort to decrease expenses amid the troubled economy.’ ‘

While lobbyists can’t promise surefire favorable results, their efforts are still important to the University. Whether they’re paid professionals or just students and administrators looking to be politically involved, there’s a key aspect of lobbying that can’t be forgotten: making sure the University’s voice is heard.

No matter how willing state legislators are to listen and consider the insistencies of students, their efforts and their experience can only benefit Pitt’s interests and themselves.

Students practicing lobbying get involved with real-world, hands-on politics. The students who went to Harrisburg undoubtedly learned something about the political process that the classroom probably couldn’t replicate. While professionals cost the University thousands, student trips are far more financially reasonable.

Students are sent to Harrisburg once per year to lobby, but given the all-around benefits of such trips, perhaps more trips should be considered.

Even so, Pitt can’t depend on student lobbyists alone. With our economy the way it is, it seems the University is cutting back funding in nearly every facet of its operations. Diminishing the amount of money spent on lobbyists to a degree might be reasonable, but the University shouldn’t underfund this practice. Again, even if state legislators and politicians don’t follow through with lobbyists’ requests — as exemplified by Rendell’s persistence with his school budget plan — a few failures can’t overshadow the whole of their efforts and influences.