Professors lecture lawmakers on higher ed issues

Christine Stoddard
Capital News Service

VCU Business professor Bob Andrews spent part of Virginia Higher Education Advocacy Day talking with Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke).

On a mild winter morning the day after the General Assembly opened, 36 professors and 12 students from colleges and universities in Central Virginia came to the state capitol on a daylong mission: to encourage legislators to better meet higher education’s financial and policy needs.

Led by faculty from VCU, the participants had six hours to push for more money for higher education, lower tuition for in-state students and greater compensation and benefits for teachers at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Dr. Patricia Cummins, professor in the VCU School of World Studies and head organizer of the event, embraced the symbolism of Virginia Higher Education Advocacy Day by likening the mission to a post-WWII mentality.

“The GI Bill helped produce 30 years of the greatest prosperity the U.S. has ever known. Back then, people realized that higher education serves both the social and individual good,” Cummins said.

“More recently, there’s been a shift in philosophy that higher education’s more of an individual good than a societal good. We’re trying to swing the pendulum,” Cummins said. “So I coined a phrase that we use, ‘Virginia Higher Education – invest and grow.’”

The group came to express support for two provisions in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget: $200 million in new funding to make college education more affordable for in-state students and an additional $2.21 billion in employer contributions to the Virginia’s Retirement System.

In addition, the advocates spoke in favor of two bills, House Bill 486 and Senate Bill 104, which provide incentives for top faculty to come to and remain at Virginia institutions.

The House measure would allow faculty in optional retirement plans to opt-in to the Virginia Retirement System after 10 years of service. The Senate bill would create a 50 percent tuition waiver for children of faculty at state universities and colleges.

The day also included students like Jesse Kneep and Henry Kuhn (right), who helped professors like Andrews.

Last week’s Higher Education Advocacy Day marked another installment in a long fight for better conditions for faculty and students at Virginia’s colleges and universities, often with the same issues brought up year after year.

Dr. Bob Andrews, professor in the VCU School of Business, said former VCU President Eugene Trani and current President Michael Rao support the participation of VCU faculty in the advocacy event.

“We do this with the blessing of our president and administration,” Andrews said. “Certain institutions down (Interstate) 64 have told their professors not to (participate).”

Andrews, former president of the VCU Senate as well as of the Faculty Senate of Virginia, has participated in Higher Education Advocacy Day every year since its start. He noted that, as state employees, public university professors may advocate, not lobby – but some institutions fail to see the distinction between the two actions.

Advocates believe that participation in Higher Education Advocacy Day brings attention to their agenda.

“We’re visible, we’re concerned, we’re interested,” said David Fauri, president of the VCU Faculty Senate and professor in the School of Social Work.

Cummins said the day was successful.

“People generally felt pleased with their reception by legislators and aides.”

Nevertheless, professors and students are prepared to return to legislative offices next year. It matters little that they may be raising the same issues in 2013.

“The first date doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get married,” Andrews said.

It may be some time before the General Assembly and participants of Higher Education Advocacy Day marry all of their ideas for improvement of Virginia’s higher education system.

 

Photos by Christine Stoddard

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