Using pen, paper and Twitter, Pitt’s Student Government Board is appealing to Pennsylvania legislators to please — after seven months — pass a state budget.
At SGB’s weekly meeting, Board members approved a resolution to officially insist that lawmakers pass a budget through letters and a social media campaign. Board member Jack Heidecker and Governmental Relations Chair Pat Corelli introduced the legislation at last Tuesday’s meeting.
Over the past week, the Governmental Relations Committee has worked with SGB President Nasreen Harun to shift the resolution’s focus. Heidecker, who helped write the bill, said the changes were geared toward discussing how the budget impasse affects students, including the uncertain state of tuition costs at the University. The previous bill said the refusal to pass a budget would affect the University.
“The resolution is part of a multi-prong approach to let lawmakers know we’re upset with the budget impasse,” Heidecker said. “We’re in month seven of too many. If there’s anything we need to do to make our voices heard, it’s worth doing.”
The resolution focuses on how the lack of appropriations has already affected Pitt undergraduates by “creating a climate of budgetary uncertainty.” Since Pitt has lost funding for Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency grants, which provide financial aid for low-income students, the impasse “endangers the ability for undergraduates to continue attending” Pitt, according to the resolution.
“The language of the way we changed [the resolution] was more focused on undergrads instead of the University as a whole to bring it back to students we represent,” Heidecker said.
Pitt is teaming up with Temple University and Penn State to create a larger demand for change from students as the respective schools’ student governments have announced similar campaigns.
Aron Cowen-Luehrmann, director of government affairs for Temple Student Government, confirmed Temple will launch a social media campaign Thursday. Emily McDonald, president of Penn State’s University Park Undergraduate Association, said Penn State will launch its campaign Thursday.
Harun said Lincoln University’s student government expressed interest in starting a similar campaign, but Terrell Smith, president of Lincoln University’s Student Government Association, could not be reached for confirmation in time for publication.
Harun said she discussed a plan with the other student governments to reach out to legislators using a letter and a social media strategy at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students on Dec. 30.
According to Corelli, the Governmental Relations Committee began helping Harun compose her letter on behalf of SGB to the Pennsylvania state government last week and encouraged students to send their own letters.
“It’s become a political football in a sense where everyone has been using funding to use their own interests, when we would just like to have our own funding,” Corelli said.
Although Harun is the only member of SGB sending a letter, she said she hopes all members of the Board will participate in the social media campaign.
The committee is sending Harun’s letter Thursday, so long as Penn State and Temple have their letters and social media campaigns ready as well. The colleges are sending the letters to the governor’s office and the chairs of the Assembly’s appropriations and education committees.
“We know something needs to happen,” Harun said. “We’ve come together to figure out ways to alert lawmakers that this is a concern to us and that we think it’s so long overdue to pass [the state budget].”
Harun plans to reach out to student groups to include them in the social media campaign, and said even the small changes won’t “fall on deaf ears.”
“Students talk about tuition and the high cost, well now is the chance to have people at a higher level hear our concerns,” Harun said.
In other news, Board member Jacky Chen announced that SGB has confirmed two of the six speakers for the second annual TEDx University of Pittsburgh conference, an independently run program similar to the nonprofit TED Talks, which hosts speakers from several different areas, on March 26.
Dr. Michael Boninger, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Pitt and the director of UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and John Fetterman, the current mayor of Braddock and candidate for U.S. Senate, will speak at the TEDx conference.
“The conference theme is ‘Move,’ not just physically how Pittsburgh has been moving but also technologically, and [in terms of] science and communication,” Chen said.
According to Chen, the event, which will host two sessions, aims to cover six different fields.
Boninger will represent science and Fetterman politics. Chen said he hopes to announce speakers for the other four fields — athletics, transportation, energy and spiritual or arts — in the coming weeks.
For Chen, Boninger and Fetterman were easy choices because of their past experiences. Chen said Fetterman’s work in Braddock has improved the county, while Boninger has helped promote literal movement in paralyzed people.
Boninger’s neuroprosthetics lab was one of the first research facilities to allow paralyzed people the chance to move their arms again.
“We wanted the neuroprosthetics lab … because Pitt spearheaded this [initiative], they’re on the frontier of this,” Chen said. “But that was three years ago, who knows what they’re doing now.”
Allocations chair Nick Reslink announced that Friday, March 18, at 5 p.m. is the deadline for supplemental allocations budget requests.
The Allocations Committee will email dates and information for upcoming budget information sessions to all student groups, Reslink said.
Panther Club Gymnastics requested $2,052 to participate in the national competition in California. SGB approved the request in full.
The American Nuclear Society requested $2,657.80 for a conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. SGB approved $1,992.60 and denied $665.20.
Pittsburgh Men’s Volleyball Club requested $6,555.71 to participate in the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky. SGB approved the request in full.
The Computer Science Club requested $9,045 to host a hackathon competition. SGB approved the request in full.
Pitt Ultimate requested $2,669.36 to compete in a tournament in South Florida. SGB approved the request in full.
Formula SAE requested $1,717.08 to replace its driver equipment. SGB approved the request in full.
Steel City Bhangra requested $1,920 for new costumes. SGB approved the request in full.