By James El-Mallakh–
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, students from Kentucky colleges rallied inside the Capitol building in Frankfort to protest proposed state cuts to higher education and to support college affordability.
U of L Student Government Association’s Student Body President, Kurtis Frizzell, began his speech by quoting the face on the five dollar bill.
“Abraham Lincoln commented upon the subject of education, ‘I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people might be engaged in’,” said Frizzell to a rotunda filled with about 500 Kentucky students.
“In each of your respective positions, whether they be students, citizens or statesmen, are we living up to the importance of education expressed by our own self-educated Kentucky statesman and former President, Abraham Lincoln?”
With Frizzell’s rhetorical question to students filling the capitol building, he summarized the message that he and six other student body presidents brought to legislators: keep college affordable.
“I think that this rally is a great idea. it’s showing that not only are we standing up for something we believe in, we’re doing something actively to make some kind of a change in the government and I think that’s great,” said U of L freshman biology major Indraneel Reddy. “Even though we’re just university students, we can still come up to the capitol and we can still try to make our voices heard.”
The rally featured brief speeches from student body presidents from seven of the eight colleges attending. The colleges with students at the rally included University of Louisville, Murray State University, University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Northern Kentucky University, Morehead State University and Western Kentucky University.
During the rally, U of L students were encouraged to take off their shoes, a symbolic gesture to say that if Kentucky’s state representatives will not support higher education, then Kentuckians will fulfill our stereotype of being shoeless, poor and uneducated.
“As a land grant institution, it is our responsibility to provide the opportunity for those in the commonwealth to improve their lives,” said University of Kentucky student body president, Micah Fielden, during his speech. “However, this is difficult to do and achieve if we are not given the resources to make this opportunity available to all.”
Fielden spoke of the state budget allocations of 1999, in which he said that Kentucky universities would have $290 million dollars more per year if state money had not been reduced over the past decade.
“The reality is that the burden and cost of college tuition has been shifted to the student.”
State universities have been receiving continual budget cuts for 11 years. Governor Steve Beshear’s budget proposal for the next two fiscal years includes a 6.4 percent cut to higher education institutions in Kentucky. If Beshear’s budget proposal is passed, it will be the 12th cut that U of L and other colleges will have received since 2001.
A 6.4 percent cut will be the highest that universities will have endured in the past 11 years; no prior fiscal year included a cut higher than two percent.
The governor’s harsh budget proposal is also viewed by many as one of the reasons for an increased turnout at the rally. SGA also significantly increased their promotion of the rally by offering a $500 allotment to whichever Registered Student Organization brought the most students to the rally, an incentive that helped increase turnout.
One of the most important aspects of the rally was the ceremonial submission of a bill called the College Affordability Resolution to the state legislature. The bill was written almost exclusively by Max Morley, SGA’s senior advisor. The key feature of the bill would be to define “affordable” in all matters of higher education at the state level, thereafter, prohibiting the passage of any other bill that does not meet that definition of affordable.
As Morley described in a previous interview, “The biggest thing [the bill] does is establish that definition of affordable, because right now that word is thrown around so much up in the general assembly that no one really knows what it means.”
So far, the bill has support from four state representatives. Key among them is Democratic Rep. Keith Hall. The other representatives who support the bill and who spoke at the rally are Republican Rep. Ryan Quarles, Democratic Rep. Richard Henderson and Democratic Rep. Kelly Flood.
Morley says that there are no current opponents to the bill, but “if there are opponents, which there’re always opponents to every piece of legislation, no matter how good, you’re gonna see them emerge following [the rally].”
“Tuition is everybody’s issue, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Greek student, doesn’t matter if you’re a commuter student, doesn’t matter if you live on or off campus — tuition is something we all have in common,” said Cody Graudick, a sophomore majoring in English and education.
In response to the suggestion that public schools will have to be a part of the state tightening its budget, Graudick said, “For too long the kids have been taking many, many of the sacrifices. Eventually we’re not going to be able to go to school anymore.”
Dustin Robinson, student body president at Northern Kentucky University, wrapped up the rally by demonstrating, at the podium, how to call and leave a message to state representatives. The rally closed with Robinson leading a chant that was not what any one university had brought with them from the football field; rather it was the unifying cry of the Kentucky students at the rally:
“Hey hey, ho ho, these budget cuts have got to go!”
Photo courtesy KY.gov