UO advocates head to Salem to meet with legislators

On April 13, 83 student, alumni, faculty and staff advocates from the University of Oregon traveled to the State Capitol to advocate the university’s priorities and funding requests for this year’s legislative session.

The bi-annual UO Day at the Capitol event began when advocates arrived at Willamette Heritage Center for orientation, a short walk from the Capitol. The orientation was emceed by University of Oregon Alumni Association’s (UOAA) Board Advocacy Committee Chair, David Hattenhauer. UO’s ASUO President, Luda Isakharov, spoke to the importance of investing in higher education and why being 45th in the nation for per student funding is a call to action. Advocates then heard from Interim President Jamie Moffitt, who encouraged attendees to lift their collective voices for a brighter future for Oregon students. Finally, Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Christina Stephenson, a UO law school graduate, shared her path from student, to advocate, to becoming an elected official.

Advocates then broke into groups to plan for their legislative visits and made their way to the Capitol. Throughout the afternoon, groups met with legislators and advocates told legislators about their experiences that have been impacted by financial aid and other state programs  funded by the Legislature.

The advocates spoke on 4 major topics:

  • Oregon Opportunity Grant: The UO and Oregon’s other public universities request that the Oregon legislature doubles the funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant for a total of $400 million. Too many students in Oregon can’t afford higher/education, and Oregon lags far behind what other states invest in those most in need. Oregon is two and a half times behind the national average for state aid programs.
  • Public University Support Fund: Oregon Currently ranks near the bottom of the nation-45th-for spending per student at 4-year public institutions. A $1.05 billion PUSF budget would allow public universities to minimize the burden on students to pay for growing costs and inflation and make higher education more attainable for every student.
  • Oregon Student Tribal Grant: In 2021, the state authorized funding that would help universities throughout Oregon cover the costs for indigenous students. Tribal communities are a critical part of the state and have been underserved for generations. Continued funding for this program is an important investment in Oregon’s tribal students.
  • Friendly Hall Renovations: The University of Oregon is seeking capital construction funding to restore historic Friendly Hall. The renovated building will bring together UO’s School of Global Studies and Languages Programs currently in different buildings across campus and make the building safer and accessible for all students and was ranked first by Higher Education Coordinating Committee.

Some of the most memorable moments of the day included the plentiful and enthusiastic photo opportunities with Senator (and UO alum) Bill Hansell (aka ”Senator Duck”) pulling his life-size Duck cutout onto the Senate Chamber floor. Though the Capitol building is undergoing heavy construction, all the advocate groups had an opportunity to go up to the gallery in both the House and Senate chambers to see firsthand the deliberations during a floor session. This also gave the advocates a chance to meet with many legislators in between votes. When not in lobbying meetings, advocates kept the momentum going by writing postcards, submitting written testimony, and creating videos to share in support of UO priorities.

Legislators have indicated that they will wait until after the next Oregon economic forecast is released in May before making any final budget decisions. They need to better understand how much revenue will be available for higher education funding given their other budget priorities.