As the state budget impasse enters the fifth month of fiscal year 2016, the University of Illinois has made strong efforts to garner public support for Illinois public higher education through a “crisis advocacy” initiative with other state universities. All nine public universities have joined together in reaching out to alumni, students, faculty/staff, parents, and other allies to contact state elected officials in support of state funding for higher education.
Recently, University of Illinois President Killeen led the other nine public university Presidents in drafting a letter to the Governor and four leaders. The group followed up this letter by meeting last week in Springfield with the legislative leaders and the Governor to make them aware of the strong negative impacts the state’s cut on higher education would have.
In addition, The University of Illinois Alumni Association’s grassroots advocacy network Illinois Connection and its members have been working with the U of I Office of Government Relations to host small district meetings with state legislators and alumni, highlighting the tremendous impact that the University has on the state and its economy. In addition, we have hosted a number of in district events to bring our alumni and U of I legislative caucus members together. We also are reaching out to our allies in business and labor to advocate on our behalf.
To date, the University of Illinois Alumni Association has sent out two state-wide calls to actions to our alumni and students. As the first call to action in the #fundhighered advocacy campaign, Illinois higher education stakeholders were encouraged to sign a statewide petition urging elected officials to make higher education a priority. This petition currently has around 7,500 signatures and growing.
On October 19, we staged a mass call-in day called “Light up the Lines,” where we asked alumni and students from all nine state universities to call legislators asking for their support of higher education. The following day, as legislators were back in Springfield for extended session, Illinois Connection and the University of Illinois hosted a student lobby day for all Illinois public university students to unite and advocate on behalf of Illinois higher education. We had over 300 students from around the state participating.
Although these efforts have been successful in organizing and getting the voice of higher education heard around the state, we are far from over. We plan to continue to keep the momentum going strong through our alumni, students, faculty/staff, allies, partners, and coalitions. The University of Illinois will continue to lead these advocacy efforts to ensure that our state leaders understand that the future of the state depends on a strong public higher education system.