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More for Less

Student campaign tackles budget cuts

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  • Story and photos by Josh Murray
  • Published: Feb. 16, 2012
a student signing a letter

A Mizzou student signs a letter in opposition to a proposed state budget that would cut funding for higher education. The Missouri Students Association's More for Less campaign protesting the cuts includes petitions and a letter-writing drive.

As Missouri universities grapple with proposed cuts in state funding for higher education, students are taking matters into their own hands.

Members of the Missouri Students Association delivered more than 6,000 letters of protest from University of Missouri students to the offices of Gov. Jay Nixon and state legislators in Jefferson City this week.

Since the governor introduced the new budget, which would significantly cut funding for the UM System, students have begun speaking out. Through the campaign More for Less, MSA has passed a resolution opposing the cuts and is circulating a petition. The major push of More for Less, though, is the letter-writing campaign. To help peers craft their letters to the state government, MSA has provided facts, tips, talking points and templates on the More for Less website and has set up letter-signing stations in the MU Student Center.

Multiple cuts in state funding for higher education have taken place in recent years, but this year’s proposed cuts got the attention of MSA.

“There has been a trend where the burden for funding public universities is being shifted to the students,” says Zach Toombs, MSA’s director of student communications, who proposed the campaign. “The students are very passionate about this. They are educated on the issue, and they know that students can’t keep paying more money for fewer resources and less programming.”

The cuts would reduce the state funding for higher education to its lowest level since 1997. Missouri ranks 45th out of the 50 states in government funding for higher education and will rank last in the conference when it moves to the SEC next year.

“Those stats are very eye-opening,” MSA President Xavier Billingsley says.

The proposed budget would bring the amount of funding taken from the UM System to 20 percent over the last three years. The UM Board of Curators already has discussed a significant increase in tuition, and those discussions continue.

“Students are a demographic that is often discounted,” says Steven Dickherber, MSA chief of staff. “Part of this campaign, besides voicing the students' concerns, is to say we are going to be a demographic that will make sure our voice is heard.”

Six thousand letters

a stack of letters

MSA has collected more than 6,000 letters of protest from Mizzou students. Representatives delivered the letters to government officials in Jefferson City Tuesday.

After the proposed cuts were announced during the governor’s state-of-the-state speech, Toombs approached Dickherber about organizing a protest. They took the idea of More for Less to Billingsley and MSA academic affairs chairman Ben Levin, who agreed it was time for students to be heard.

The plan was to encourage students to send letters to the governor and other legislators voicing their concerns about the continuing cuts to state funding of higher education.

“We started off with a modest goal of getting a few hundred letters,” Toombs says. “That goal quickly became 1,000, and by the third day we had set another new goal of 5,000 letters.”

Last summer Levin worked as an intern in the governor’s office, where he processed email and letters.

“Being on that side of it, I knew that letters do actually make a difference,” Levin says. “I felt thousands of letters would make a big impact — not just for the governor but for state representatives and state senators.”

Last week MSA set up a table in the MU Student Center with printed letters for students to sign. MSA officers staffed the table, helping students identify their districts' representatives and senators and to collect the letters. In only six hours MSA had 1,000 letters. By the end of the week they had more than 6,000, reaching every state legislator.

“Never doubt this student body,” Billingsley says. “Don’t think that they don’t care about the issues, because obviously they do.”

Making the delivery

Billingsley joined MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton and officials from other universities and colleges in Missouri in testifying before the House Higher Education Committee in Jefferson City Tuesday morning. Following the hearing, members of MSA delivered the letters to the governor’s office and to the mailboxes of the legislators.

“They aren’t used to getting thousands of individually signed letters,” Levin says. “I think they will take notice.”

While at the Capitol, the students met with Michael Nietzel, Nixon’s adviser for higher education, and several legislators, including Rep. Chris Kelly, House Speaker Steven Tilley and Sen. Kurt Schaefer.

The response of the legislators has been encouraging.

“They know what we are doing, and they have encouraged us to keep working,” Dickherber says. “It’s exciting to have legislators see what we are doing and listen.”

‘Just the beginning’

Mizzou Advocacy, the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) and the Alumni Association Student Board (AASB) have joined MSA in the efforts. The other universities within the UM System are also doing their part for the campaign.

“This is the first time we’ve had the student body leaders from all of the system schools, not just MU, collaborating together,” Billingsley adds. “That is a big deal.”

While the letters are now in the hands of legislators, MSA’s work on this matter is not complete.

“This is just the beginning,” Dickherber says. “As effective as this has been so far, we are looking more long term. We want to get other organizations involved, and we want to get anyone affiliated with the University of Missouri to make sure their voices are heard.”

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012