Northern Kentucky University students rallied at the Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 16, primarily to address the under-funding of the university. The Board of Student Body Presidents hosted the event, and Student Government Association President Andy Hixson went along for the ride.
“I felt like it was as successful as it could have been,” Hixson said. “We were there to send a positive message to the legislators, not a negative one. We’re not down there to cause trouble; we just want to show them that we’re educating ourselves and we’re gonna be involved.”
Students were a little more conscious of the timing of the rally this year because of last year. “What happened last year was that the General Assembly was in session while the rally was going on,” SGA Sen. Michael Tobergta said. “Some of the legislators felt that it was disturbing.” The rally was over 15 minutes before the assembly met this time.
Tobergta and Hixson both agree that students and individuals need to do more to get Frankfort’s attention focused on NKU. “As important as going to the rally is, it’s even more important that individuals send letters to their representatives,” Hixson said. Tobergta agreed, saying, “Students should get in touch with the legislators who voted against the budget.”
SGA and the Presidential Ambassadors have both taken trips to Frankfort this semester, one week apart, and for the same purpose. They want the voices and the faces of NKU to be in the minds of the legislators before they make any budget cuts to higher education.
And it looks like it’s starting to work. The issue of the state budget has made the front page of nearly every newspaper in the state numerous times since the legislators at the state Capitol failed to pass the budget by deadline last year.
A huge step was made on Feb. 18 when the House passed the budget that NKU students and many others have been working for. The money from the state for the arena and the agency bonding for the new Student Union building was included. Although the budget has passed the House, it still has to go to the Senate for approval.
“I can assure you that the Senate will not approve it as it is,” said Ken Ramey, vice president for Administration and Finance at NKU. Ramey said that there’s no way the Senate will just pass the budget “carte blanche.” He feels that there will definitely be some changes made, but he was happy to see the House pass it. “I’m very optimistic,” Ramey said. “We’ve had assurances from the Senate that if there’s any capital project, it will get in. It’s pretty exciting.” Ramey also said that people can expect to see a budget passed by both the House and the Senate by March 3.
It’s not just the legislators and NKU President James Votruba who were instrumental in getting the NKU arena and Student Union included in the proposed budget. NKU students were also detrimental in getting attention for the university by working in Frankfort with the rallies and meetings with legislators to make their concerns known.
Mark Shanley, vice president for Student Affairs, believes that there were three reasons that NKU made out so well in the proposed budget. First, Shanley believes that the legislators included the money for the arena because it was included last year in the proposed budget.
“Secondly, students’ presence in Frankfort put a human face on the process. The legislators saw the students articulating their concerns,” Shanley said. “I think that had material impact on legislators. I think that was powerful.”
Shanley’s third factor was the Bank of Kentucky. Shanley believes that all three factors: the House reviewing their decisions about what to include in the budget, NKU students’ work in Frankfort, and the $6 million dollar gift from the Bank of Kentucky have “all added up to a positive outcome.”
Many of the Kentucky legislators have been vocal in their support of NKU and the arena, among them Sen. Jody Richards. Hixson met with Richards while he was in Frankfort, and described him as “really warm and receptive.” Richards has, in the past, commented on his willingness to vote for NKU to get state money put in the proposed budget by Gov. Fletcher for the arena. When Hixson spoke with Richards about the budget and the arena, he felt that he was “basically preaching to the choir with (Richards).”
Overall, Hixson believes that there’s still a lot of work to be done. “When we go down there, what we’re doing is we’re tugging on heart strings. When we leave, it doesn’t change anything,” Hixson said. “We need people to write letters and for the legislators to think ‘If I don’t support this, I won’t get re-elected.'”