UI Day sees success in Springfield

Students and alumni flooded the state’s capitol to speak with legislators and lobby for UI.

A swarm of University students and alumni convened at the Illinois Capitol Wednesday.

As part of the second “University of Illinois Day,” the group, representing all three University campuses, hoped to visit over 100 legislators and galvanize support for the University in a difficult budget year, and many participants said they felt their objectives were achieved.

“I would guess we not only achieved that, but probably exceeded it,” said Loren Taylor, CEO of the event’s co-sponsor, the University of Illinois Alumni Association. “I know the number of (legislators) I had on my list, I probably saw three times that many. If everyone had similar experiences, I think we blanketed the capitol.”

Taylor said around 130 students and 50 alumni made the trek to Springfield Wednesday, and called the figure “impressive.”

Before addressing the crowd of University lobbyists at the Illinois State Library that evening, University President B. Joseph White praised those who made the trip.

“I think it’s been a great day in Springfield,” White said. “I’m very grateful to all the students and alumni and friends of the University who came here to make our case to the legislators. Elected officials respect numbers and passion, and we had both here today.”

In a meeting with a group of University alumni and students, state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-52, talked about his passion for the University.

“You really can’t lobby me any harder,” he said, drawing a few laughs from the group. “You’re not going to make me go from loving and making (the University) my number one priority to making it my number one priority plus-one.”

But Frerichs also gave some advice to lobbyists when asked about the acceptance rate of out-of-state students.

“A lot of my colleagues here, one of their beefs with the University is they’ve all got someone from their district who has a 27 ACT, graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, and couldn’t get into the U of I,” he said. “‘And gosh darnit, it’s because they’re taking all these foreign students and out of state students.'”

But while many did meet with representatives, some wondered if Wednesday’s House and Senate sessions would keep them out of touch with legislators.

“I think most of the legislators have been forewarned that we’re coming, so they should be expecting us,” said Ralph Hahn, a former University Trustee, during a luncheon held at the Sangamo Club prior to the scheduled visits.

“The question is, are we going to be able to talk to them individually rather than drop something off in their office? If we get the chance to talk to them individually, then it could be very effective.”

Jay Landon Frye, freshman in ACES, agreed that there was an aura of uncertainty around how many state representatives and senators would be visible.

“It sounds like we’re going to have to be prompt in our message with the legislators,” he said. “We might get time to talk to them, we might not.”

Regardless of how many senators and representatives were actually available, others in the capitol building took notice of the effort.

“It’s very impressive to see the young people coming down to advocate for their own University,” said Bill Schmidt, State Farm Insurance agent from Park Ridge, Ill. “I think they certainly get their ear by being here.”

As for measuring the success of University of Illinois Day, President White mentioned a potential raise in the University system after votes in Springfield on the state budget and capital spending bill are counted in May.

“We have to see what our appropriation is. The governor’s recommended an increase for the U of I in the toughest budget year in decades,” he said.

“I would say that if we get an increase, that will be a real sign of success. I would say there’s not many other things being recommended for increases.”