For example, Illinois students successfully lobbied in the 1973 legislative session to obtain passage of a bill to place one nonvoting student member on the governing board of each public institution of higher education in the state. This was House Bill 1628 (Public Act 78-822), sponsored jointly by Rep. Goudyloch Dyer (R., Hinsdale) and the former speaker, Rep. W. Robert Blair (R., Park Forest). Former Sen. Jack T. Knuepfer (R., Elmhurst) handled the bill in the Senate. Student efforts to block a proposed six per cent tuition increase at senior institutions last year were also successful. The key to these successes lies in the fact that students in Illinois have organized themselves into an effective lobbying group that has earned the respect of state boards, committees, commissions, and even the General Assembly.
This student organization is called the Association of Illinois Student Governments (AISG). It was formed in December 1971 by student government leaders from the following state universities: Eastern in Charleston, Western in Macomb, Sangamon State in Springfield, Illinois State in Normal, Southern Illinois at Carbondale, and Southern Illinois at Edwardsville. While student lobbies have recently appeared in many states, AISG along with the student organizations in California and New York are currently considered to be the best organized.
AISG's efforts have earned praise and respect in Springfield. "They are viewed as a bona fide interest group," says Steve Teichner, an assistant to Gov. Dan Walker. Michael Smith, the assistant director of governmental affairs of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), says that "in principle we'd be in favor of AISG." He adds, "Students have every right to express opinions."
The origins of AISG
AISG maintains a permanent office in Springfield with a full-time staff of three, plus several student interns who receive academic credit for a semester's work with the association. The formation of AISG was largely the work of Lonnie Johns, a student at SlU-Car-bondale. After selling the SIU student body president on the idea, Johns communicated with various schools during the fall of 1971 in an attempt to lay the groundwork for the association's initial meeting in December of the same year. Johns was named the first executive director at that meeting, and a governing board was set up to determine AISG policy. Johns' Springfield hotel room was the association's first head-quarters.
Current Executive Director Douglas Whitley notes that the need for a student organization had been growing for some time. Early in 1971 the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) to the IBHE issued a report condemning the IBHE for the way it handled students. Whitley says that the critical report elicited no action from the IBHE.
In the meantime, Johns began attending meetings of various boards and committees connected with higher education. AISG made its first real impact in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) where Johns served on a task force. By the winter of 1973 the association had moved into its permanent headquarters, hired another full-time staff member, picked up several student interns, and received a grant from the lieutenant governor's office to do a study of statewide student problems. AISG also hired Jim Gitz, a former McGovern campaign worker, to serve as executive director. The association also formed its advisory board with former lieutenant governor and now U.S. Representative Paul Simon as the first member.
It was also in early 1973 that the bill creating positions for students on governing boards was introduced. Whitley noted that the idea of student representation on governing boards was not new. SAC, he explained, had long worked for full student membership on the IBHE. Then Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael J. Bakalis also supported the idea, and did much of the work formulating the bill.
When first introduced, Whitley said the bill's chances for passage looked bad until the help of Lt. Gov. Neil Hartigan was sought by the association. Hartigan agreed to help and actively worked to secure the bill's passage. Whitley added that AISG carefully chose sponsors of the bill in both the House and Senate.
"The chief opponents were the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and the junior colleges," Whitley said. To counter the opposition, Whitley said, many students came at their own expense to Springfield to either testify in favor of the bill or speak with the representatives about it. Many other students wrote letters of support to their legislators, Whitley added. These efforts paid off when the bill passed easily in both chambers. There were only six negative votes and one "present" vote in the House and one negative vote in the Senate.
214 /Illinois Issues/July 1975
By CRAIG SANDERS
A graduate student in political studies at Sangamon State University, Sanders covered student and faculty government as a student editor of the Eastern News at Eastern Illinois State University where he graduated in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in political science.
The Association of Illinois Student Governments has lobbied against tuition increases and for student representation on governing boards
But not long after Gov. Walker signed the bill, AISG began having problems with the bill's implementation because it contained vague language, according to Whitley. "An anti-student or conservative board could delay implementation by raising questions about how far student rights on the board extend," Whitley said. AISG sent out information packets to schools around the state, and Attorney General William J. Scott issued an opinion (S-733, April 17, 1974) that supported the student position. Scott's opinion affirmed the right of student board members to attend executive meetings and the right to make and second motions.
One of AISG's next concerns was recruiting new member schools. "In July 1973 we had only two more members than the original seven. Thus we had not grown much," Whitley said. The recruitment effort was successful. Today AISG has 16 governing board members and 12 subscriber members. Subscriber members can participate in discussions of the governing board but cannot make motions or vote on them. Governing board institutions contribute 30 cents per full-time equivalent student enrollment in dues, while subscriber institutions contribute only 10 cents.
In December 1973 a subcommittee of the IBHE issued a report calling for universities to increase their income fund by six per cent, and recommended corresponding tuition increases. AISG felt the IBHE's decision was arbitrary and hasty. Whitley said no opinions were solicited from the universities' governing boards and the public before the recommendation was made. At that time, AISG launched a campaign to stop the increases. Whitley said the association sought and obtained passage in January of a Senate resolution opposing the tuition hikes. Among those announcing opposition were such key legislators as Speaker Blair, Senate President William Harris, the chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees, and Lt. Gov. Hartigan.
AISG launched a petition drive among students that within 10 days netted 25,000 signatures opposing the proposed hikes. It also solicited and received help from many other organizations such as the AFL-CIO, NAACP, Illinois Farmers Union, and the American Association of University Professors. On January 30, 1974, AISG officials met with Gov. Walker for 45 minutes in Chicago to outline their opposition. Walker later announced his opposition to tuition hikes in his March 1974 budget message, an action which finally killed the tuition increase proposal.
Although AISG officials take pride in claiming to have stopped the tuition hikes, IBHE's Michael Smith doesn't see the association as the sole force behind the defeat. "I think there is probably some element of doubt about whether AISG was responsible for stopping the tuition increases," he said. Smith said his personal opinion is that the governor and the General Assembly were opposed to the increases, and the legislature would have killed the increases anyway. "It is probably going a little bit too far to say they [AISG] killed it," Smith added.
Ongoing voter registration
Last fall AISG conducted a statewide voter registration drive that resulted in the registration of 22,000 new student voters, Whitley said. Posters and some 16,000 "vote" buttons were distributed during the campaign. Whitley added that AISG considers voter registration as an ongoing project, and that AISG has always been involved in the electoral process. But, Whitley stressed that AISG itself does not endorse individual candidates or political parties, nor does it say where a student should register to vote—at home or on campus.
Whitley attributes much of the success of AISG to just being in the capital city and knowing what is going on. More importantly, the staff restricts its activities to issues that affect students directly. "AISG does not get involved in philosophical or international issues," Whitley said. "In this way we gain the respect of the higher education establishment as an equal." Walker's aide Teichner reflects this feeling. "They are equal," he said, "they are treated as equals among other interest groups." IBHE's Smith also notes that across the board IBHE and AISG agree on most issues. The two just happened to disagree on tuition increases.
Concerning AISG's conduct on the political scene, Teichner said AISG has conducted itself in a professional manner. "They provided valuable input on that particular issue [tuition increases] and on other issues," he said.
Perhaps the place for students as lobbyists is best summed up by Lt. Gov. Hartigan. "Nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars is being spent on higher education," he says. "It makes perfect sense for students to have something to say about how these dollars are spent and the quality of the programs that are funded, for these decisions affect not only their present lives but their future careers as well."
July 1975/lllinois Issues/215