For Drew Janengo, a freshman political science major at NMU, it was time to give the Michigan Legislature a wake-up call.
“We need to let our legislators know that they can’t give (students) the runaround. We are going to stand up and be heard,” Janengo said.
On March 25, Janengo and around 700 representatives from all 15 of Michigan’s public universities traveled to Lansing and gathered on the steps of the Capitol building to protest the state government’s proposed budget cuts to higher education.
Janengo, a down-campus representative of the Associated Students of NMU (ASNMU), was one of the members in charge of organizing the event for the 40 NMU students who attended the rally. ASNMU received a lot of support from President Les Wong, who helped pay for the bus, but most of the credit goes to the students who attended the rally, said Janengo.
“Students from NMU showed true character in coming to the rally. It’s important for us to fight for our right to education,” he said.
The rally was organized by the Student Association of Michigan (SAM) and the student governments from universities across the state. SAM was founded in 2007 by student government representatives from across the state to allow students to have their voices heard by the state Legislature.
“We want to start doing real work for the students; we want to make our presence felt,” said Jordan Twardy, president of SAM. “This rally shows that students want to participate and be active.”
Students who attended the rally arrived at the Lansing Center, and met along the banks of the Grand River before marching up Michigan Avenue toward the Capitol building. After stirring up the crowd with chants such as “No cuts no fees education should be free,” Twardy addressed the crowd.
“Coming here today shows that you all care about higher education and what our government is doing to it,” said Twardy.
During Twardy’s speech, he outlined SAM’s proposal to the Michigan legislature to preserve higher education funding in Michigan.
“The rising cost of higher education cannot continue to be ignored by the state. Michigan is dead last in America for per-student appropriations, spending roughly $2,000 less per student than the national average,” Twardy said in the proposal.
Twardy also recognized students from Michigan Technological University (MTU) and NMU who drove through the night to make it to the rally. Students from NMU left at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 24 and arrived in Lansing at approximately 8:30 a.m.
ASNMU president Jason Morgan has been working with SAM to coordinate this event for months.
“We can’t cut our way out of our problems. It’s not politically popular to say we need more tax money, but the consensus is that we need more,” said Morgan.
Morgan, who is also one of NMU’s representatives in SAM, said that students made an impact at the rally. Legislators could hear students chanting outside from inside the capitol itself, said Morgan.
“Several legislators even complained that we were disrupting their meetings,” said Morgan.
Morgan spoke at the rally along with presenters from the state house of representatives, the mayor of Lansing and other students and members of SAM.
After listening to the various speakers, students who attended the rally were invited to sit in on the Michigan Senate and the House of Representatives, who were both in session. The students were recognized by the House of Representatives, and received a round of applause from the legislators.
Morgan said that while many of the state’s legislators have been hesitant to endorse more funding for higher education, Rep. Joan Bauer and Sen. Mike Prusi have been helpful from the beginning. Rep. Steve Lindberg has also been involved securing more funding for higher education.
“If we cut public education to where the middle class can’t afford to go, (Michigan) doesn’t have a future,” Lindberg said.
One of the ways to secure more funding for higher education would be to reform the state’s correctional facilities by locking up fewer criminals for a shorter period of time, Lindberg said. This is not a perfect solution however, as the jobs created by prisons are important in many communities, particularly Lindberg’s own district.
“There is no magic solution. What’s good for the state isn’t always good for my district, and it’s my job to represent my constituents,” Lindberg said.
While the chances of things like the Michigan Promise Scholarship coming back are slim, Lindberg is glad students are here to protest the cuts.
“Sometimes (legislature) doesn’t see a problem until it is brought to them directly. Students like (those at the rally) are the future,” he said.