When it comes to politics, two groups hold most of the power: those who give money and those who act. Since college students are notoriously strapped for cash, it is unlikely that we will ever become major campaign contributors. We do, however, have the sheer numbers to be a significant political voice — UT alone has the potential to be home to 50,000 voters. However, until we use that power at the polls, students will pay the price — in real dollars — for our failure to act.
Though our backgrounds vary significantly, Texas college students share many key interests. We pay tuition, and we don’t want it to skyrocket because the Legislature cuts higher education funding. We don’t want to lose our financial aid or watch friends drop out of school because they lost theirs. We don’t want to face the situation that exists at University of California institutions, where drastic budget cuts have resulted in many students being unable to enroll in courses they need to graduate. The UT student body could, by voting in large, unified numbers, compel its representatives to prioritize higher education. UT students come from every legislative district in the state; as a whole, we are constituents of every lawmaker in Texas. UT students represent a political power which, if utilized effectively, could be used to advocate for reasonable tuition rates and small class sizes.
It is time to stop letting our busy schedules and transient lifestyles prevent us from taking simple steps to influence public policy. As long as we continue to bypass the voting booth and postpone contacting representatives, legislators will continue believing that students don’t pay attention to what happens at the Capitol, and cut tuition and financial aid accordingly.
Voting is not the only way for UT students to impact the political process, especially when the Capitol is only four blocks from campus. The next time you have an hour or two between classes, walk those few blocks to visit your state representative or senator’s office. They’ll likely be glad to see a student from their home district and might even offer you a glass of water or a Coke. Tell their staff how your life will change if college becomes unaffordable or enrolling in necessary classes becomes impossible. Your visit will put a human face on the impact of higher education funding cuts.
If you’re hesitant to go alone or want more training, sign up for one of the many “lobby days” hosted by several campus organizations. “Invest in Texas,” a Student Government-sponsored advocacy program, is holding a lobby day Tuesday. Students will meet at 11 a.m. in the Student Activity Center and walk to the Capitol.
Getting angry when tuition goes up and professors are fired is easy. This summer, if you learn about funding and staff reductions and feel inclined to gripe, ask yourself: Did I act? If the answer is yes, then go ahead and gripe at the system. If the answer is no, gripe at yourself.
<em>Heinrich is a government freshman.<em/>