Behrend students react to budget cuts

In the face of the most severe budget cuts Penn State has ever faced in a single year, Behrend students are mobilizing in unprecedented fashion.

Within two weeks of the announcement of the budget, a small committee comprising student leaders across the college formed. It included the presidents of the Student Government Association, Interfraternity Council, Beacon, College Democrats, College Republicans, and Political Science Society, as well as several other concerned students. The committee’s task: giving Behrend a voice.

“Basically, the budget is now in the hands of our state representatives and senators,” said Connor Sattely, the editor-in-chief of the Beacon and one of the members of the committee. “It’s up to us, in these next few critical months, to let them know that we’re watching the budget debate, and we’re watching to see who supports scaling these cuts back.”

The group’s efforts have centered around four large events.

First, it led a group of 10 Behrend students to Harrisburg last Tuesday to participate in a Penn State Commonwealth Campus rally and meet with state senators and representatives. In Harrisburg, they secured support from State Representative Pat Harkins (D-Erie, Lawrence Park), a Penn State alumnus.

“He told us that he would be working his tail off to lower the cuts,” said Sattely. “While we heard that from a lot of politicians that day, he then moved around appointments on his schedule to come to Behrend to speak to our students.”

According to Sattely, Harkins will come to Behrend for the second of the committee’s big efforts: a rally for affordable education. Modeled off of rallies that have already taken place at Allegheny and Edinboro, this rally will give students a chance to vent what the committee calls “controlled frustration.”

“Where meetings with legislators and town hall-style events are our chance for civilized, calm discussions, the rally is a chance to show that we’re more than a little pissed off,” said Adam Fracassi, Political Science Society president and member of the committee. “It’s our chance to show not just the Erie community, but every one of our representatives, that we do care about state politics, this does matter to us and we’re trying to make a difference.”

Fracassi said he expects Behrend students to come with the most creative signs possible to hold up in the crowd. Already, for the rally in Harrisburg, one sign was made that said, “I’ll just be a stripper.”

“I think they can get even more creative than that,” Fracassi said, “but we’ll see.”

The third effort that the committee is aiming for is a letter-writing event.

“In my interactions with [State Senator] Mary Jo White’s office, she said that the things she saw flooding in were all form letters, angry e-mails, angry phone calls,” Sattely said. “The thing she said made the biggest impact was a package of handwritten, respectful letters from Slippery Rock students.

“Right now, we need personal appeals to these legislators,” he said. “They’ve heard enough about numbers and economic effects of the university in the state; they need to know that their constituents are worried now.”

A time, date and location is not yet set for this event, but Sattely said that information will be decided soon and publicized by the end of the week.

The “crown” event of the semester will scale back some from the rally and give the chance for students to engage in a discussion with their representatives on alternatives to cutting higher education, and what it will mean to them.

Sattely said that so far, State Representatives Pat Harkins (D-Erie, Lawrence Park), Florindo Fabrizio (D-Erie), Curt Sonney (R-Erie) and state senator Jane Earll (R-Erie) are confirmed to attend the event, which will take place 12:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, the last day of classes. Associate Professor of Political Science Robert Speel will moderate the event.

“Where the rally was our chance to show we’re pissed, the town hall is our chance to show we’re savvy,” said Sattely.

Fracassi said that the last few weeks have been unbelievably hectic, and with these events all occurring in the next two weeks, more help is sorely needed.

“We could certainly use some help with organizing the events, getting things set up for the representatives and senators, getting students out to attend them,” he said. “Most of all, we just need students to realize how much this budget means to their tuition costs and show up at the events to prove that our students care.”

Students interested in helping with the events should contact Sattely at [email protected]

TOBY KELLER

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