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Faculty members urge legislators to protect college funding

Pat Cummins addresses faculty before meeting with legislators (Photo by Haley Wright)

Pat Cummins addresses faculty before meeting with legislators (Photo by Haley Wright)

RICHMOND, Va. – More than 30 students and faculty members from Virginia colleges and universities gathered in Richmond to urge legislators to protect funding for higher education.

Virginia Higher Education Advocacy Day, an annual event sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Faculty Senate, aimed to deliver a basic request to lawmakers: make fewer cuts and add more funding for state colleges and universities.

Pat Cummins, a member of the VCU Faculty Senate, said, “We have one major event of the year, and this is it.”

Brian Turner, who launched Advocacy Day in 2003 with colleagues in the American Association of University Professors, said Thursday’s turnout of students and professors was larger than he expected.

Faculty members expressed concern about the impact students would feel directly as a result of more budget cuts. The effects could include shorter library hours and fewer tutoring services, along with higher tuition fees to make up for money the schools aren’t receiving from the state.

The benefits of funding for colleges and universities go beyond the classroom, experts say. According to a report published in 2014 titled “Addressing the Cost of Public Higher Education in Virginia,” those benefits include greater economic growth and reduced societal health-care costs.

Gerard Sherayko, a professor at Randolph College in Lynchburg and president of the Virginia Conference of the AAUP, said a better educated population is a healthier population. Sherayko said the entire state benefits when people have the ability to make more money, pay more taxes and do more things with their money.

“I teach at a private school,” Sherayko said, “but these issues matter to all of us.”

While the main goal of Thursday’s event was to urge legislators to resist calls to cut higher education funding, faculty members also highlighted bills before the General Assembly that they support or oppose.

According to Cummins, some of those bills would impose on academic freedom by requiring specific courses as part of a student’s curriculum. Another bill would require faculty members to ask students for documentation that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

By Haley Winn with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.