Juneau welcomes cohort of student senators, officials

Lakeidra Chavis/Sun Star Reporter
Feb. 14, 2012

Most students believe that they have little influence regarding issues that surround the university system, especially in politics. We can’t decide tuition, fees or budget cuts. However, the annual Student Legislative Conference allows students to advocate for the issues they feel are most important.

From Feb. 4 to Feb. 7, members of UAF’s student government, ASUAF, and three students spent time in downtown Juneau advocating during the 27th Annual Student Legislative Conference, organized by the Coalition of Student Leaders. The annual conference allows students from all accredited University of Alaska (UA) campuses, including smaller branches, to travel to Juneau to advocate for student issues. This year’s meeting focused on merit-based and need-based scholarships, advising and deferred maintenance.

ASUAF President, Student Regent and ASUAF Delegate to the Coalition Mari Freitag, ASUAF Senators Chelsea Holt and Robert Kinnard III, ASUAF Government Relations Director Josh Banks and UAF students Bryant Hopkins, Matthew Helt and Yuzhun Evanoff represented UAF during the conference.  The ASUAF student fee funded the trip. Students who are enrolled in more than three credits pay the $35 fee each semester.

Governor Sean Parnell recently cut the $1.5 million of the university’s operating budget that went to advising.

“We were advocating to have the legislature put the $1.5 million back in the budget for the advising because it’s very important,” said Freitag, 21, who is also a political science student. The advising budget covered not just academic advising but also programs that help students with financial advice.

Although no specific reason has been given for the budget cut, ASUAF members and attendees of the conference were told it was meant to create a flat budget with a two-percent growth.

The students were able to meet with Governor Sean Parnell during the conference, in which the advising budget was also discussed.

“He said that it was mostly because the programs are so important and he wanted a dialogue about them and he knew that students would be coming down to advocate for it,” Freitag said. “It’s difficult to tell, I mean, with the legislature, it’s very political.”

ASUAF encourages students to share their advising and transfer-credit experiences with ASUAF so they can deliver the information to the Statewide Administration Assembly and they will figure out what the main issues are. The assembly will give the information to  the university president and the administration will decide what information to report to the legislators.

Students are also encouraged to apply for the ASUAF Senate and to apply for the Student Legislative Conference next year. Preference is given to students who have experience in political science, the legislature process and advocating.

This was political science student Holt’s first time attending the conference. “I wanted to go because I heard about this from last year, before I even became a senator,” Holt said. She missed last year’s deadline by two days.

Unlike advising, money for deferred maintenance received lots of support from the legislators.

“Deferred maintenance, from the sounds of it, has support because it’s a big issue. You don’t want to continue to put a Band-Aid on a situation if there’s a big gaping hole, you want to fill the hole and fix it,” Holt said.

There is a $750 million backlog of deferred maintenance within the UA system. A lot of UAF buildings are facing numerous code violations, lack of adequate plumbing or insufficient sprinkler coverage in case a fire starts. The Operating and Capital Budget Requests for the Fiscal Year of 2013 is available online. The book gives specific details for which buildings need maintenance and why.

Merit- and needs-based scholarships were also discussed because “there’s a portion of the scholarship that rolls over each year and isn’t being used,” Holt said.

As for goals this semester, Freitag will contact legislators to advocate for a bigger advising budget.

Although there is still work to be done, “overall, it was a very successful trip,” Freitag said.

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