More than 150 students, faculty and alumni from the University of Minnesota’s five campuses converged at the Capitol on Tuesday, calling for state funding to refurbish aging infrastructure and to freeze undergraduate tuition.
Students and officials voiced their school pride on “Support the U Day,” which began with a rally in the Capitol rotunda before students met with lawmakers throughout the afternoon.
“I think it’s really important for students to show up so that legislators know how much we contribute to … our community, that students really care about these issues,” said Simran Mishra, incoming student body president at the U’s Twin Cities campus.
The U is asking for $238.5 million in capital funding to address a mounting backlog of maintenance and renovation needs. Gov. Mark Dayton went beyond that request in his 2018 public works proposal, recommending a roughly $300 million investment.
University President Eric Kaler spoke to students during the rally about the school’s infrastructure needs, and he urged them to continue seeking legislative support.
“All of the requests we have made are important and significant,” Kaler said.
Dalton Javner, student body president at the U’s Crookston campus, said the northwest Minnesota school needs state money to modernize outdated lab spaces.
“We’re not able to do all of the labs that we want to do ... because we don’t have the actual facilities to facilitate that learning,” said Javner, a senior health science major.
University officials are also seeking a recurring $10 million they say they would use to freeze resident undergraduate tuition across the system.
“I think many legislators share with me a commitment to have the university be as affordable as possible. But we’re also committed to having the university be excellent, and excellence requires funding,” Kaler said.
Max Hurst, government and legislative affairs director for the U’s Minnesota Student Association, said a tuition freeze would help students balance other costs such as rent and textbooks.
Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage, vice chairman of the House higher education committee, attended the rally.
“While I’m sure they would love to get the full $238 million, I think they understand that … it’s a menu of options for the Legislature,” Christensen said.
He said he supports the U’s $24 million request to renovate Pillsbury Hall as well as money for a tuition freeze.
“I think it’s important to keep that tuition steady and flat,” Christensen said.
Ryan Faircloth is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.