Students rally in Salem

A massive crowd of students, faculty, instructors and others who support funding higher education rallied on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday morning, protesting a $96 million budget cut. The crowd chanted “Stay on tack, don’t go back.”

“We’ve come from across Oregon to protect the progress the legislature made in higher education last session, and to restore the $96 million dollars that Governor Kitzhaber cut out of higher education,” said Brian Lord, student body president at Eastern Oregon University.

“You don’t even know how amazing this sight is,” said Mary Cunningham, Chair of the Board for the Oregon Student Association and Portland State student, “It is sad that Gov. Kitzhaber is not here to see this beautiful sight.”

The governor was in Japan during the rally.

Universities from across Oregon were represented at the rally. Some of the travelers left on busses as early as 4 a.m.

Cunningham explained that last year Republicans put $100 million more into higher education than the Governor put in his budget. This year Governor Kitzhaber’s budget cuts higher education by about $96 million.

“With all due respect, he was wrong then and he’s wrong now,” Cunningham said.Several legislators agreed with Cunningham and all the other students who attended the rally.

House Speaker Mark Simmons (R-Elgin) was one of the many who stood up to make sure every Oregonian has access to quality, affordable education.

Senate Majority Leader David Nelson (R-Pendleton) said the governor is a good man, but he disagrees with his policies this time.

Nelson told the crowd that this is a marathon that will go on until May when the forecast for the budget will be presented.

Nelson ensured the crowd the legislature would work hard to restore funding to higher education.

House Majority Leader Karen Minnis (R-Wood Village) told the crowd that the legislators heard stories last session about how scholarships were important and about the burden of high debt loads students carry when they get through with school. Minnis said that those stories were important then and important now.Minnis said it makes a difference when the students and faculty come to Salem, because it shows that this is a priority.

House Minority Leader Dan Gardner (D-Portland) said that there need to be incentives for businesses to offer scholarships. Gardner also said that the Oregon Opportunity Grants needs to be restored.

Gardner assured the crowd that this issue affects both parties.

“This is not a partisan issue, we are here to help you,” Gardner said.

He informed the crowd that one-third of Oregon high school graduates do not continue their education mainly because of the cost.

“Higher education is essential to succeed in life” Gardner said.

Greg Monahan, president of the Association of Oregon Faculty, said that college is not a luxury and that Kitzhaber owes everything to higher education.

“No future in stopping at high school,” Monahan said, “The only door to the future is the door to a college classroom.”

Monahan said that Oregon stands for universities that are “worthy of our people.”Monahan made a plea to Kitzhaber, “I’m begging you to join us, if you won’t join us, then get the hell out of our way.”

Senator Ryan Deckert (D-Portland) and Representative Tim Knopp (R-Bend) spoke on behave of the Higher Education Caucus.

Senator Deckert told about how Oregon led the country in cuts in higher education in the early 1990s. “We will not go back,” Deckert said.

The crowd went wild and started chanting “We will not go back.”

“There was a question is the students and faculty would get geared up, here is your answer,” Knopp said.

Knopp went on to say that this was an impressive turn out on the capitol steps for any issue. Knopp said that Oregon should recognize what is at stake and that we can not go back to lower higher education funding.

“We will win,” Knopp said.

Justin Roach, Oregon State University student body president, told the crowd that students will pay a minimum of $120 extra per term, which he said puts $25 million on the back of students and that he said would disappear into the general fund.

Kathie Best, Oregon Institute of Technology staff and Statewide President of SEIU Local 503, said that cuts make it harder for them to do their job.

Best said she was not only concerned as a worker for the Oregon University System, but as a parent of a daughter who is in the Oregon University System.”College does not just raise earning potential but it enriches the soul,” Best said.Speakers from different parts of Oregon’s economy were also at the rally to lend their support.

Agriculture representative Carol Marx spoke about the importance higher education to her field.

Allen Allie of Pixelworks is a strong supporter of higher education and is frustrated and embarrassed that people from Oregon have to look elsewhere to get an education.

“Stop clear cutting higher education funding, it is the most valuable resource of the new economy,” Allie said.

Allie urged students to contact their representatives to let them know that Oregon students care about funding higher education.