Around 135 University of Nebraska students, faculty, staff and alumni braved the cold weather and rallied at the Nebraska State Capitol on March 6 to oppose Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed budget cuts.
Unicameral floor debate on the proposed budget reductions, which would force NU to unleash a tidal wave of program cuts, is expected to begin next week. In light of this, NU administrators organized the “I Love NU” Advocacy Day so supporters could voice their concerns to their senators.
The event began at 2 p.m. with NU President Hank Bounds welcoming those in attendance and introducing State Sens. Adam Morfeld and Robert Hilkemann. To Morfeld, who represents UNL’s district, education is imperative.
“I think that strong public education, whether its K-12 or higher education, is the great equalizer in our society,” he said.
Hilkemann agreed, saying investments in places like Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft pale in importance to an investment in college education.
“I want to tell you the very best investment you can make: It’s in you,” he said. “Get yourself trained...A great college education will always be the base upon which you can do everything else in your life.”
Following that, University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who used to be the speaker of the Nebraska State Legislature, instructed those in attendance on how to speak to senators and what to expect. To Kristensen, this gathering was democracy in action.
As he pointed out, Nebraska’s unicameral system was designed to allow Nebraska citizens to shape the policies of their representatives.
“This is unlike anywhere else in the country,” he said. “You can walk into any one of their offices. You don’t need an appointment.”
And for UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, NU supporters talking to their senators can change the course of public policy.
“The senators represent constituents, and when constituents show up to tell their stories, it will affect change,” he said.
To wrap up the thirty-minute meeting, Bounds told his story and encouraged others to do the same. Growing up in an impoverished family in Mississippi, Bounds never imagined he’d go to a university, let alone lead one.
“The fact that I’m standing before you now is a testament to the transformative power of higher education,” he said.
After the meeting, supporters were encouraged to disperse and speak with their senators. UNL student Diane Sherwin came to the rally to do just that.
“I’m a full-time student,” Sherwin, a junior forensic science major, said. “Higher education is really important to me.”
Coming from a family of UNL alumni, Sherwin said this is her chance to show the state’s leaders how much NU means to her. And though NU dangles above a pit of budget shortfalls, Sherwin said she is optimistic about its future and every student’s change minds.
“It’s so unique here with how easily accessible the senators are,” she said. “It can take just one constituent to change one senator’s mind, and that can change everything.”