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MailTribune.com
  • SOU student lobbying pays off in Salem

  • Hundreds of lobbying visits by students during the Oregon Legislature's last session helped Southern Oregon University secure $500,000 in emergency funding to help prevent cuts.
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  • Hundreds of lobbying visits by students during the Oregon Legislature's last session helped Southern Oregon University secure $500,000 in emergency funding to help prevent cuts.
    The funding came through House Bill 5201, which redirected $3.5 million from the Chancellor's Office to schools, including the half-million dollars for SOU.
    Four students with the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University were in Salem lobbying during the majority of the session, which began in early February and wrapped up March 7.
    "People really didn't think we would come back with anything concrete," said Max Goldman, ASSOU vice president, who spent four weeks at the Capitol during the session.
    Goldman said ASSOU President Tommy Letchworth was there for every day of the session, and having a strong student presence helped to secure the money.
    "This got us a solid foot in the door of the Legislature," Goldman said.
    He said since helping get the money, the students have received a lot of positive feedback, including from SOU's administration.
    "The students absolutely took the lead on this," said Liz Shelby, chief of staff and director of government relations at SOU.
    Goldman said he was told the money would go into a separate account and be spent transparently for strategic investment in the school.
    He said that students would be included in a strategic investment task force being formed at the beginning of spring term. Preemptively, students are brainstorming ways to best spend the money.
    The university on Friday announced its official retrenchment plan, a series of academic cuts that the university hopes will save more than $6 million a year.
    The boost for SOU was one of a handful of legislative measures affecting the university during the most recent session.
    The Legislature also moved forward the date when universities can make formal requests to form an institutional governing board.
    The change in House Bill 4018 applies to SOU, Eastern Oregon University, Oregon Institute of Technology and Western Oregon University.
    Those four universities have until May 15 to make requests to form governing boards, something SOU President Mary Cullinan has expressed interest in doing.
    Shelby said SOU is moving forward with plans to request forming its governing board.
    The Oregon State Board of Higher Education will decide whether to allow SOU to have its own governing board within 45 days of the request.
    Another legislative measure allocated $21.3 million in bonds for deferred maintenance and seismic upgrades to McNeal Hall, where SOU's athletic complex is housed.
    The project was considered a high priority for safety by the Oregon University System. The award was part of $29 million issued for capital projects across the university system.
    Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.
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