Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review

This year the 2011 Associated Students Legislative Agenda this year was significantly downsized in length and focus compared to years past. It has been approved as a two-part, single-page document focused solely on the financial threat to the heart of higher education at Western.

The impact of state funding cuts has been a subtle but mounting presence. It can no longer be denied that these cuts are not going away anytime soon, which is why the document concerns Western’s most pressing issues.

The agenda states that the AS believes “higher education is a public good.” The document outlines AS support for legislation to keep tuition affordable and increase student access to the State Work Study Program.

Byron Starkey, vice president for governmental affairs, constructed the first draft of the agenda, along with recommendations from Iris Maute-Gibson, AS legislative liaison.

“Up until this point the administration has done a good job ensuring those cuts don’t affect the heart of Western’s academics,” Starkey said.

However, students are beginning to notice the increases in class sizes and the loss of staff members.

Maute-Gibson will spend winter quarter in Olympia during the legislative session, lobbying the agenda on behalf of Western students. On Jan. 16-17, she will be joined by student representatives for Viking Lobby Day.

The goal of Viking Lobby Day is to put faces to the numbers, said Maute-Gibson. The students will be meeting with Washington legislators to present the agenda and share their personal stories about how the cuts have affected them.

Student Senate Chair Lucas Bourne believes the agenda’s advantage this year is its conciseness. Having attended Viking Lobby Day last year, he said he witnessed legislators glancing over the “laundry list” of topics outlined on the sheet.

Last year there were six issues outlined on the agenda. Each meeting between the students and legislators was about 10 minutes long. The amount of time did not give the legislators enough opportunity to look at each issue in depth, and therefore it was harder for them to know which issues to lobby for Western students.

Morgan Holmgren, associate director of the AS Representation and Engagement Programs, said the option to lobby for issues beyond the protection of the basic needs of higher education is not there right now, nor would it be productive.

The state does not have enough money to apply to specific programs such as health care on campus, Starkey said. The only thing they can really put their energy into is getting more money for Western.

On Nov. 13, Starkey and Maute-Gibson took the agenda to the General Assembly Meeting of the Washington Students Association in Ellensburg, Wash. The WSA is an association of student governments which collectively advocates the issues of higher education throughout Washington. Maute-Gibson will meet with other members of the WSA every day while in Olympia, ensuring there is a representative from Western among the other student groups.

The agenda was approved by the Legislative Affairs Council, the student senate and the board of directors. Each meeting has been open for Western students to attend and give feedback.

Over the last two years Western has seen an overall 40 percent budget cut. Fourteen programs are currently being phased out from the university including the Student Affairs Administration major, the only major of its kind available in the state, and nationally renowned for the quality of its curriculum.

What Maute-Gibson hopes to illuminate to the state legislators on Viking Lobby Day is the unstable economic future being created in Washington due to the statewide cuts to higher education. Education is an active way to create a productive society, she said.

Throughout the recession, people with baccalaureate degrees have been the only demographic in the working population that has seen an increase in demand within the job market, Starkey said. By decreasing the amount of people able to get these degrees now, the less economically competitive the state will be in the future, he said.
Starkey said, as the baby boomer generation leaves the job market, at this rate there will not be enough degrees to fill the vacant spots.

The only way to maintain quality higher education programs in Washington is for students to form a strong coalition advocating for their needs, Maute-Gibson said.

If you are interested in attending Viking Lobby Day, please contact Iris Maute-Gibson at AS.Legislative.Liaison@wwu.edu, or Byron Starkey at asvp.gov@wwu.edu.