By sarah watson
As the Iowa Legislature comes closer to approving midyear budget cuts to the three universities governed by the state Board of Regents, students across the University of Iowa campus have joined in advocating for public-education funding.
The UI Student Government and Hawkeye Caucus have shuttled students to and from the Capitol and launched a social-media campaign emphasizing awareness and advocacy in an effort to bring student concerns to the Statehouse and perhaps lower the amount of the potential cuts.
On Feb. 8, the Senate approved cutting $14.6 million from the budget of the three state universities collectively, down $4.6 million from the $19.2 million in cuts initially approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Hawkeye Caucus President Abby Dockum said advocacy efforts are shooting for long-term effects.
“With budget cuts, we know they’re not necessarily going to do what we ask, but we want to build up a message over time that makes sure legislators are recognizing the important work we’re doing — that even if we’re not seeing immediate results, the story is getting across,” Dockum said.
Hawkeye Caucus is a student organization offering an avenue for any UIsupporters to contact their legislators. Its website offers an online form for students and advocates to fill out personalized messages, enter their home address, and send it to their respective legislators. Students can also attend monthly meetings.
As a part of the student group’s initiatives, 85 Hawkeyes will travel to the Capitol in March to advocate on behalf of UI students, as thegroup does annually.
This year, the organization will make four extra trips to Des Moines in response to talks of midyear budget cuts to the regent universities, which Gov. Kim Reynolds first announced in January.
“This is the first time we’re bringing students outside of Hawkeye Caucus Day, and that is directly because of more student interest in our group and the importance advocacy is really showing this year,” Dockum said.
Advocacy is not just limited to students, Dockum said. Alumni, employees, and anyone affected by the university are also encouraged to advocate.
UISG has made numerous trips to the Capitol, UISG Director of Government Relations Mitchell Dunn said, allowing members to talk with legislators across the board.
He emphasized the biggest impact students could make was to reach out to their hometown legislators to ensure the message reached a wider audience.
“Get in contact with your legislators, let them know your thoughts on any issue. They’re very receptive,” Dunn said. “It’s really easy to send a quick email or give them a quick call.”
Although Hawkeye Caucus offers the option to send an automated message for UI supporters to send to their legislators, government officials say they usually engage with more personal messages.
“I would just encourage people to come talk to us. What we get a lot are just robo-calls or emails that people just click on and send it,” said Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, education appropriations subcommittee chair. “Then we usually just send a robo-response back, but if they’re more personal with their approach to a legislator, you’re more likely to get a personal contact back.”
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hopes students will take more of an active role in voting, so representatives see catering to them as a priority.
“Students need to get registered to vote, and come out in November,” he said. “The public universities have gone through round and round of budget cuts … and students need to get to know the candidates for governor and the candidates for Statehouse.”