The EKU flag didn’t literally fly over the Frankfort skies on Wednesday, Feb. 17, but it might as well have.
For the third consecutive year, a large contingent from the University joined supporters from Richmond and Madison County for Colonels at the Capitol Day. The event included meetings with legislators, formal introductions and recognition on the House and Senate floors, and an evening reception at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.
The topic of discussion was the budget recently proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin that calls for substantial cuts in higher education appropriations.
“Today was a chance for us to make a case for higher education, writ large, but, more particularly, for EKU,” said President Michael Benson near the end of the day. “It was a really good day.”
A standing-room-only crowd greeted legislators from both political parties who made their way to Room 346 of the Capitol Annex to share their perspectives and hear from attendees. The EKU group included University faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as members of the Board of Regents and Foundation Board. Additionally, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce brought a busload of supporters.
“The message we’re trying to reinforce is that Eastern is making gigantic strides,” Benson said, citing record enrollments and graduation and retention rates, the best-prepared freshman class in University history, progress in academic programs, campus revitalization initiatives, and other improvements.
State lawmakers who addressed the group included Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook), Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones (D-Pikeville), House Speaker Pro Tem Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), Rep. Rita Smart (D-Richmond), Rep. Donna Mayfield (R-Winchester), Jonathan Shell (R-Lancaster), Rep. Kim King (R-Harrodsburg), Rep. Ken Upchurch (D-Monticello), Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington) and Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort). As EKU alumni, Carpenter, Smart, Shell, King, Upchurch and Jones also spoke about the positive impact the University has had on their success, both inside and outside the political arena. Also, the academic building of EKU’s Manchester Campus is named for Stivers, who played a key role in securing funding for the facility.
EKU is “one of the few institutions that do this,” said Dr. David McFaddin, vice president for government relations, engagement and regional stewardship. “They (the legislators) want to engage in the conversation, so advocacy is important. Contact your legislators. Make sure they know how important education is to you, how it has shaped your life, and how education is the panacea for all that ills not only our state, but our country.”
The budget debate is far from over, said Benson, who presented on behalf of EKU to the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Thursday, Feb. 18. The presentation can be seen at http://president.eku.edu/sites/president.eku.edu/files/files/Presentations/EKU%20Budget%20Presentation%20Feb%202016.pdf.
EKU Board of Regents Chair Craig Turner said the process takes “perseverance, patience and, most of all, a message.”
In his campus e-mail, Bensons said that message should continue to focus on the University’s positive momentum, opportunity for students, and the fact that an investment in EKU is an investment in Kentucky.
For a form to submit to legislators, click http://gov.eku.edu/2016-budget-advocacy.
“We don’t want to slow our progress,” Benson said. “We’ve worked way too hard to get to this point. Others have put a solid foundation in place before us, and our task is to build on that foundation and keep the progress going.”