Monday, March 15, 2010

Lobbying and a Little More

Sometimes you wonder if lobbying matters or not. I recently had an experience that made me see how a trip to Albany can matter in unexpected ways. Last week, the New York Community College Trustees Association coordinated a day of advocacy for community colleges. Each community college in SUNY brought trustees, staff and students to Albany for meetings with our respective elected officials. As the saying goes, it was a day to remember.

I joined two other administrators in taking two students to Albany for a day of scheduled meetings. The students had never been to Albany. One was a returning adult student who already had a college degree, but came to MVCC to get a business degree to help her husband with their growing family business. The other student was a second year student who overcame a number of barriers as a youth to attend MVCC right after school.

Arriving a little early, we walked over to the Capitol to look around some before our first meeting. Just as the students were commenting at their new surroundings, we started up the escalator and said “good morning, Governor” as Governor Patterson and his staff were headed down the escalator. As we stepped off and came to the information desk, I asked the staff member where we might go for a self-guided tour. She quickly responded, “It’s early, I have time to show you around.” She grabbed her keys and took us into the Senate Chambers and gave us a wonderful tour, describing the beautiful architecture and some of the history in our view. Soon after, we went through the Assembly Chambers, walked the million dollar staircase, and toured the beautiful law library. It was a fantastic way to start our day.

During our scheduled series of meetings with Assemblymen Magee and Townsend, Assemblywoman Destito and Senator Griffo, we met staff and students from other community colleges and got familiar with many of our fellow New Yorkers in the crammed elevators – to the point that we were using the stairs by the end of the day. We were able to hear the latest challenges our elected officials are facing – cutting $9-10 billion out of a $56 billion budget. The revenue streams keep falling short of expectations and the solutions for simply “cutting” are becoming increasingly scarce. We were there the day the proposed “bailout” solution was proposed, which would prohibit any basic transformational pain that is likely to be the only long-term solution for New York State government. We were able to talk about the exciting initiatives at the College, the challenges we face and demonstrate the difference MVCC makes in its students' lives through the personal stories of the students with us who shared their experiences and perspectives with the officials (they did a fantastic job.)

It is hard to quantify how much our visits mattered in the overall scheme of the 2010 political session in Albany. However, it was pretty easy to see how much our visits mattered to the students, and in turn, to the rest of our team. To see their reactions and listen to their reflections throughout the day was a real treat. It was evident that the day created multiple lasting memories for the students and for us. The 90 minute ride from Utica to Albany also mattered in that the five of us got to know each other better and truly feel part of a team, so proud to represent MVCC. An added bonus for me was within 24 hours after our trip to Albany, I happened to cross paths with both students. We smiled and said hello – knowing that our time together was much more than just lobbying. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.