Student leaders headed to the Capitol on Thursday as part of the annual Invest in Texas campaign, speaking with legislators and their staff about campus carry regulations, in-state tuition for undocumented students and a host of other higher education-related issues.
As part of this year’s Invest in Texas campaign, a nonpartisan lobbying effort between the Graduate Student Assembly, Senate of College Councils and Student Government, leaders from the organizations presented six platform points on behalf of the student body.
“We ran a well-oiled machine,” said John Brown, government junior and Invest in Texas co-director. “Our messages — they were very well-received. We got a lot of good feedback on our platform.”
One of the group’s platform points supported a capital investment for the renovation of Welch Hall. Welch houses the UT chemistry and biochemistry departments, and the building is 85 years old. The University needs around $125 million to renovate the building and improve laboratory safety, according to administrators from the College of Natural Sciences.
Geetika Jerath, international relations and global studies senior and Senate of College Councils president, said she believes Welch, which approximately 10,000 students use each day, is unsafe for laboratory use.
“Students and faculty members fear for their safety,” Jerath said. “This is not a mindset that Longhorns … should have. We should be focused on conducting groundbreaking research in state-of-the-art facilities.”
The platform also called for legislators to continue support of the Texas DREAM Act, which grants in-state tuition for undocumented students with Texas residency. Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), chair of the House committee on higher education, spoke to students before they met with legislators, and he said he thinks the DREAM Act will pass in the House again.
“The opportunity for [undocumented students] to go on in higher education is critically important to their success and the success of the state,” Zerwas said.
The students who lobbied also spoke in opposition to tuition regulation at the state level, asking that state universities be allowed to determine their own tuition.
“If tuition is re-regulated, the very people who pay the tuition will lose their voice in this critical issue,” Jerath said.
Students also lobbied in favor of a bill that would establish tax-free periods for textbook sales in August and January, and for continued state funding and grant-matching to support research at Tier One institutions, including UT.
The group lobbied in support of allowing college campuses to set their own policies on campus carry, a bill that, if passed, would allow students to carry concealed handguns into campus buildings.
Sharla Chamberlain, public affairs graduate student and GSA’s legislative affairs director, said graduate student voices often go unheard.
“There are 12,000 graduate students living, working, researching at the University of Texas today,” Chamberlain said. “Graduate students provide an invaluable service to UT. … We’re all taking time from our busy lives to invest in our education.”