Higher education doesn't receive the same level of advocacy at the Legislature as Pre-K-12th grade education or healthcare but the University of Minnesota system and its five campuses are working to change that, said Mike Miller, the legislative advocacy coordinator for the U of M system.
Miller spoke at a Jan. 22 legislative kickoff breakfast at the University of Minnesota Morris.
When the of U of M seeks funding from the Legislature or seeks support for other higher education issues from the Legislature, success can't happen unless people advocate for support, Miller said.
There are no better advocates then the people who work, study, use and appreciate U of M services, Miller said. Miller reminded the audience that U of M connections include the using the university hospital, using extension services and other services provided by the university system.
"The best advocacy is the advocacy you will do," Miller said.
The kickoff was planned to include the UMM community as well as the area community. The room at Oyate Hall was filled with mostly UMM representatives and a few area community people.
Miller said in in response to follow up questions with the Stevens County Times that general "community support is critical" to the U of M system and to the U of M Morris.
Yet, "getting people to take action is never easy," Miller said. Yet, when communities are reminded of the economic benefit of jobs created by having a university in town or the opportunities a university provides for students, it can be easier for people to take action, Miller said.
During the kick-off Miller asked the audience members to be advocates by contacting legislators through phone calls, email, social media and other means.
None of the local area's state legislators attended the meeting. Legislators that represent the district, Rep. Jeff Backer, R, Browns Valley, and Sen. Torrey Westrom, R, Elbow Lake, told the Stevens County Times they were unable to attend the kickoff because of legislative commitments.
Backer and Westrom said hearing from their constituents is important. They've been hearing from advocates for the Morris campus and the U of M in general.
Westrom cited improvements in buildings on campus and at the West Central Research and Outreach Center as successes in the recent legislative sessions. "Those improvements (would not) have happened without the great lobbying efforts from the Morris area and advocates...," Westrom said in an email.
"I frequently hear from folks in Morris and around the district about UMM and its importance in our community," Backer said in an email. Most of the constituents contact him about tuition concerns and about measures to improve and repair facilities on campus, Backer said.
Westrom said "U of M issues are just as important as the others to hear from constituents...,"
"UMm is an invaluable asset for our area and large economic drive for the community," Backer said. "I always welcome constituents to reach out to me to share their thoughts and concerns on any issue, but especially something as important as UMM."
During the legislative kickoff Miller made it easy for the audience to contact Westrom, Backer and other legislators. He provided postcards to send to legislators at audience tables. Some were filled out before the kickoff session ended.