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Lobbying for IU

Campus issues represented in legislative process

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Jul. 20, 2006 

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An entire department at IU is responsible for representing the University's position on higher education issues to the government.

The IU Office of Government Relations maintains University connections with state and federal lawmakers, and the alumni group, Hoosiers for Higher Education, provides easy access for those interested in legislative issues pertaining to Indiana education.

"State Relations serves as the primary liaison between Indiana University and the legislative and executive branches of Indiana government," reads the State Relations' Web site. "The state relations team also works closely with other universities and higher education groups in Indiana."

The department is currently preparing for the next legislative session, during which IU's budget will be set for the next two years, said JT Forbes, assistant vice president of Government Relations and executive director for State Relations.

"Our job is as much shaping what people throw at the University as it is advancing the funding and policy agenda," said Forbes.

Recently, the Government Relations staff has dealt with legislative attempts to mandate research, Forbes said. A few state lawmakers considered regulating research at the Kinsey Institute, but IU's State Relations Department argued that would be a violation of academic freedom and faculty members should be free to determine their own research.

Rather than actually lobbying, Frobes said Government Relations instead primarily provides information. The staff spends a great deal of time on the road and on the phone, getting to know legislators and what is on their minds so they can promote the University.

"There is an extraordinary network of legislators who believe in IU," Forbes said.

Government Relations works beyond the state level, as well.

"Federal Relations serves as the primary link to the federal government, working regularly with Congress, the White House and federal agencies on matters that affect IU and higher education," according to the Federal Relations Web site.

Doug Wasitis, director of IU Federal Relations, works in Washington to promote the University among the federal government.

"IU receives $400 million a year in federal grants and contracts, so it makes sense to have someone in Washington," said Wasitis.

Forbes said the department is responsible for a broad range of activities.

"We are advocates for the academics and the research of the University and at the same time we are problem-solvers," he said. "We have to help people when problems come up with the government and, likewise, we also help the government."

Hoosiers for Higher Education, a University advocacy sponsored by the IU Alumni Association, guides people in search of information about higher education policy.

"The primary goal of Hoosiers for Higher Education is to engage its members to connect with public officials about the importance of supporting funding and policies that will ensure that IU continues to be a premiere international teaching and research institution," according to the HHE Web site.

HHE supports the entire IU system, said Debbie Sibbitt, HHE director. With about 10,000 members -- including students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and University friends -- HHE is one of the largest grassroots university advocacy organizations in the nation.

Currently, HHE is working closely with the State Relations staff to prepare for the next legislative session.

"We are putting together our toolbox of information that we can have readily available when we go into next year's General Assembly," said Sibbitt.

"(HHE tries) to maintain a large database of people who are interested in contacting the government about issues important to IU and higher education," Sibbitt said.

Its Web site provides several resources that simplify finding information and contacting government officials, including a link to important issues facing IU, a way to find elected officials for a specific area and tips to consider when writing or visiting elected officials.

IU aims to convince the state to provide the desired financial support for University research and development that will ultimately complement state goals for economic development, Sibbitt said.

Students interested in actively promoting IU and higher education may join HHE on its Web site, www.gov.indiana.edu/hhe/index.shtml.

 

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