By John Hanley
LSU students want to graduate. They want their majors to exist, they want good courses and good professors, and they want their degrees to count in the job market. LSU professors want salaries, and they want to be able to do their job. Most of all, the LSU community wants LSU to be alive and functioning in the fall semester and for years to come.
This was the message last Thursday when over 1,000 students, professors, alums, and community members marched the March for Change to the New State Capitol. The rally was a student-organized protest of Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget cuts to higher education, which would potentially cut hundreds of millions of dollars—or about 70 to 90 percent—of LSU’s working budget. Speakers ranging from LSU students to gubernatorial candidate John Bel Edwards united to call for change, and marchers met those speeches with roars of agreement that resonated into the capitol building. As an LSU Staff Senate representative said in her speech, “We’re here because we’re fighting, and we’re not done yet.”
Indeed, the rally represented just the first step of the fight against budget cuts. Voter registration and “Write Your Legislator” tables were set up at the march to promote continued community involvement in the political process and ensure that students’ and teachers’ voices are heard as budget cuts are discussed.
“[LSU students] have been criticized lately about how we’ve been complacent, but LSU students are not complacent, and we just showed everyone that,” said Valencia Richardson, Mass Comm. Junior at LSU and part of the organizing board for the rally. Richardson said her and fellow organizers were optimistic about the rally, but their expectations were met and exceeded.
“[We got] more numbers than anyone else would’ve imagined, more numbers than anyone else expected out of us…I’m sky high on how successful this event was and how responsive students were,” she said.
Olivia Montgomery, an English Junior at LSU, expressed just why students are so responsive.
“Higher education matters. We have education in the first place to educate people so they can vote well and for the greater well-being of society, so lack of quality education means lack of a quality state,” she said. Montgomery added that she is personally concerned about English and other humanities departments getting cut because it would potentially affect her ability to graduate, a concern that many other students have voiced as well.
“It’s a responsibility we have to show our legislators and decision-makers that we consider these decisions very important and very critical to the university that employs us or educates us,” added David Chicoine, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at LSU and participator in the rally. “People have to show up and realize that you have to get involved, and you cannot just sit there and wait for people to make decisions for you.”
Chicoine echoed F. King Alexander’s statement that LSU is preparing for the worst, but many of the students and others at the rally were hopeful to see change after the success of the march. Students were ready and excited to do the work necessary to protect LSU, because, as the rally’s Master of Ceremonies confidently declared, “We are here to make the change.”
June Manuel, an English Writing and Culture fourth-year at LSU, said she’s willing to make the change to protect her degree and others’ education as well.
“People definitely need to be writing to legislators, and just trying to support higher education,” she said. “I’m hoping to see a stronger interest and an investment in higher education…in the students, and in the professors. If we’re cutting higher education, and if we’re not prioritizing higher education, then we’re not giving future generations a future at all. If we’re going to care about our state and we want to perform on a national level, we need to invest in higher education.”
The legislators and their representatives that were present at the march, such as Representative John Bel Edwards, heartily agreed with students like Manuel. Edwards, for instance, promised not to allow “one single dollar” to be taken from the higher education budget. He showed that there are some legislators on higher education’s side, but much of the rally was focused on urging students and other attendees – whether in-state or out-of-state – to write to their legislators and express their opposition to the cuts. This, according to many of the proponents of higher education at the rally, is one of the best ways to make the change that students and supporters of LSU want to see.
Visit bit.ly/contactyourledge to contact your legislators about budget cuts to higher education in Louisiana.