Students try luck at lobbying

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January 29, 2010

2:22 AM

RICHMOND, Va. — While most of the campus slumbered early Tuesday morning, a group of College of William and Mary students braved the cold and headed to Richmond to lobby Virginian politicians.

Road to Richmond, an annual trip to the state’s capital, is designed to bring students to the offices of the men and women who control a large amount of the College’s operating budget, and funds for building projects. Over the next two years, the state of Virginia faces a $4.2 billion budget shortfall, and funding for higher education is once again at risk for further cuts.

College President Taylor Reveley declared the prevention of further cuts the number one priority of the students on this expedition. Along with asking legislators not to cut higher education budgets further, students were assigned to prevent a levy on student fees, protect the current ratio of out-of-state students and get bonds for “brick and mortar” projects to get them rolling again.

“Every year here I have had an impact on legislation, and educated at least one legislator on an issue and changed a vote,” John Pothen ’11 said.

Pothen, who was on his third Road to Richmond trip, spoke with six legislators and their assistants.

“The biggest difference we can make is to put a face to William and Mary,” he said.

Adam Rosen ’11 said he attended Road to Richmond out of a deep love for the College.

“The College has its own special place and it must be maintained as a quality school,” he said.

Rosen met with a legislative assistant to Del. Tim Hugo ’86 (R-40), who is one of the most vocal proponents of higher ratios of in-state students at public universities.

Student Assembly President Sarah Rojas ’10 also participated, meeting with Del. Chris Jones (R-76), who is on the House’s Appropriations Committee for Higher Education.

“It was exciting to see students have a part in the legislative process besides voting,” she said. “We are privileged at William and Mary, but we also have a responsibility to give back.”

Rojas said that she plans to make regular lobbying trips to Richmond with interested students while the legislature is in session.

Many students said “giving back” was a major motivation to participate in Road to Richmond.

“Everyone on this bus showed tremendous initiative,” Scott Foster ’10 said.

Foster said he was impressed with the behavior and knowledge of the legislators in Richmond.

“They spoke frankly and were in tune with the issues facing the College,” he said.

Carlos Quintela ’12 said Road to Richmond enhanced his interpersonal skills, allowed him to meet with legislators and let him give back to the school.

“It’s really important to get the College’s needs out there,” Quintela said.

Bryan Alphin ’10 and Leacy Burke ’12, who intern at the College’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, organized the trip.

Alphin controlled the managerial aspects while Burke researched legislation that students should discuss with delegates.

Alphin said he organized Road to Richmond to prevent policies that would threaten the tradition of higher education.

“It’s easy for [legislators] to become detached from higher education and forget the tradition and its importance,” Alphin said.

Lee Desser ’10 said she took part in the trip this year because she is concerned with the state of public education.

“If funding is cut, it will become more expensive,” Desser said. “You can’t underestimate the value of higher education.”

Desser also said Road to Richmond is a good example of grassroots organizing, which is crucial to the democratic process.

Before lobbying, the students received crucial advice from Sen. Tommy Norment J.D. ’73 (R-3), who represents Williamsburg, among other localities. Norment emphasized the importance of advocating one’s needs.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Norment said. “If you are not heard, if you do not make your presence known, you will not get the things you are looking for. This is the real deal.”

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