Last fall OSU President Ed Ray endorsed the creation of the Presidential Student Legislative Advocates (PSLA) program with the two-pronged intent of increasing student advocacy in the Oregon legislative process while providing students an opportunity to learn about, and engage in, public policy issues of concern to them.
Nominated by college and university leaders, program participants participated with university leaders, the Associated Students of OSU (ASOSU) and activists in briefings with legislators, lobbyists, and legislative staff regarding issues that came before the state legislature during the 2019 legislative session.
Throughout the session, PSLA participants played a significant role in OSU’s advocacy efforts, with an emphasis on increasing funding for student programs. This included:
- Working with OSU’s Office of Government Relations, Beaver Caucus, and the ASOSU leadership to pursue specific legislative priorities for students attending Oregon’s public universities;
- Participating as team leaders for various OSU lobby and advocacy activities;
- Following specific bills of interest as they worked their way through the legislative process;
- Meeting with their own legislators and legislative staff;
- Attending committee hearings; and
- Shadowing lobbyists and other legislative advocates as they operated in the State Capitol.
The PSLA offered students an insider’s view of the people, organizations, and processes that characterize Oregon’s legislative process. It also carried an expectation that students would engage, on behalf of OSU and ASOSU, in the legislative process, supporting measures and actions designed to help keep tuition low, increase investments in OSU’s facilities, and further the statewide impact that OSU programs have on Oregon’s economic and social vitality.
Here are some specific achievements from the first PSLA cohort:
- In addition to actively participating in organized lobby days, students visited the Capitol on a “Carbon Field Trip” that involved sessions with Governor Brown’s Carbon Advisor, advocates for and against state carbon legislation, and committee staff responsible for shepherding a complex state bill through the legislative process.
- A number of students “shadowed” lobbyists involved in issues of interest to them – including lobbyists for the Oregon Education Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
- Eight students joined their legislators during floor sessions in the Senate.
- PSLA students served as team leaders at our lobby days. These events consisted of advocating for a variety of topics including college accessibility and affordability, a $120 million increase for university operating funds, full funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, campus building renovations and construction and reinvestment in the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs – the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory.
- Led by an Army Veteran participant in the PSLA, student veterans from multiple universities and community colleges were successful in advocating for SB 35, which removed a sunset clause from an Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs campus grant program and enabled more funding to hire counselors and advisors for veteran students. They were also successful in increasing funding for the program from the $700K recommended by the Governor to $1 million.
- PSLA participants also led efforts to pass SB 731, which enables student governments to take stances on issues that are of interest to them. The bill clears up a grey area in the law that has caused confusion within student governments across the state.
Comments from Participants:
PSLA did not just teach me how to lobby and speak to legislators, it connected me to people who have great networks and an interest in seeing me succeed. Because of PSLA I now have a much greater idea of what direction I want to go with my life and how to achieve that goal.
I remember the day that I and ten other students went to Salem to learn more about HB 2020 (carbon legislation). We were able to sit in the committee chairs and ask questions to key players involved in the legislation. I will carry that moment after I graduate as something that further confirmed my interest in politics.
PSLA has been a great overall experience; it has helped me to build my professional network, and introduced me to new friends and new opportunities both on and off campus! I gained skills in professional communication and interactions and in leadership, which will help me in nearly all future aspects of my life!
I would not even know where to begin if I were to list all of the new experiences and skills this program has brought to me, because it introduced me into a completely new realm I was passionate about, but did not know how to get involved. As for OSU, having students get listened to and populate the Capitol halls is something that we need to expand upon even more since the neglect of funding higher education in Oregon is going to hurt us all.
We are looking forward to the development of this program as it moves into its second cohort during the 2019-20 academic year.