Politics and the University: Lobbying for Higher Education and Research was the most recent in a series of Rackham-sponsored programs on the future of the research university. Panel moderator for the program was Tom Butts, associate vice president for government relations and director of the Universitys Washington, D.C., office. Butts, who will retire at the end of this year, has represented the University on Capitol Hill since 1980. Prior to that he was director of financial aid.
Panel members included President Emeritus Robben Fleming; Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations; Constance Cook, director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, associate professor of education and author of Lobbying for Higher Education: How Colleges and Universities Influence Federal Policy; and Kevin Casey, senior director-state relations, Harvard University.
As colleges and universities joined together into associations, such as the American Council on Education, to increase their bargaining power, the schools made an informal pledge not to seek federal dollars on their own. However, Fleming noted, some schools have not been loath to approach Congress on their own, and there have been some notable leaks in recent years. Given the nature of the budget process in Congress, the temptation for special funding requests by individual schools could increase, Fleming warned.
Wilbanks, who is responsible for the Universitys federal and state lobbying efforts, described some of her experiences on the other side of the desk as a staff member over a 20-year period for former Michigan Congressmen Marvin Esch and Carl Pursell.
Casey provided yet another point of view from his position of leadership in the Science Coalition, a small group of research universities, including the U-M, who jointly adopt more sophisticated lobbying techniques to achieve continued congressional support for research.
One of our strategies is to generate third-party voices to speak for research. In that regard weve recruited CEOs from 15 large corporations to sign a letter making a powerful statement on the importance to them of university research. Were also asking state governors to sign a similar letter on the value of research to their states economies. And, he added, were realizing the power of the Internet as a lobbying tool in grassroots efforts.