By: Cody Boteler, Senior Editor
The Towson University Student Government Association released a document earlier this month outlining its legislative priorities for Tiger Pride Day on Feb. 17, when Towson students will travel to Annapolis to lobby state lawmakers.
Composed by SGA Director of Legislative Affairs Pierce Jaffri, the document outlines five major legislative concerns of Towson’s SGA. The agenda calls for legislators to work to keep college tuition affordable, promote and sustain a workforce of University of Maryland System students, advance transgender rights, secure Towson’s operating budget and secure funding for capital improvement projects on campus.
“This year I wanted to once again push for a socially progressive initiative – which is demonstrated through the advancement of transgender rights – while simultaneously tackling pragmatic issues such as capital improvement projects for the university and employment after graduation for college students in Maryland,” Jaffri said in an email.
Jaffri noted that the issues on the agenda for Tiger Pride Day are not the only issues that the SGA will be advocating for in Annapolis.
On the day, students will depart for Annapolis at 8 a.m. and leave for campus around 3 p.m. Tiger Pride Day is considered a University event, and is therefore an excused absence.
Students who wish to attend Tiger Pride Day will have to attend a workshop beforehand. Students choose which workshop to attend when they register online. According to the online schedule, students will meet with three different legislators throughout the day to lobby them.
“My ultimate goal for the day is for every attendee to realize – if they don’t already – that politics is the realm of life that shapes everything you do, enjoy and experience while you are on this earth,” Jaffri said. “If that goal is accomplished, then my work here is done.
Keep college tuition affordable
According to Towson’s website, in-state undergraduate students paid about $6,400 in tuition for Fall 2015-Spring 2016. Out-of-state students paid over $18,000. These estimates do not include the cost of any mandatory fees that students pay.
According to The Economist, student loan debt nationwide is over $1.2 trillion.
The SGA’s legislative priorities document calls for Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, lawmakers and other officials to ensure that college education in Maryland remains affordable and “inclusive, innovate, diverse and academically-advanced.”
Promote and sustain a University System of Maryland graduate workforce
To help combat the second-semester senior fear of finding a job, the SGA is lobbying for incentives to assist students who graduate from USM schools.
The SGA is calling for the legislature to pass into law financial incentives for Maryland businesses that hire graduates from USM schools within six months of their graduation.
“The composition process for the legislative agenda consisted of a lot of research and collaboration with my assistant director and key members of the university’s administration,” Jaffri said. “I wanted an LGBT issue to be on the agenda this year, so I had my assistant director, Patrick Mascio, meet with transgender students and listen to their concerns. Once our research was completed, we developed a game plan and composed the agenda.”
Advance Transgender Rights
The SGA is encouraging Maryland lawmakers to make the name and gender change processes in the state. Specifically, the SGA is asking lawmakers to eliminate the rule that requires a letter from a psychotherapist that includes details about the length and nature of their treatment.
“We do not want transgender students to feel as though they are subject to being classified as mentally ill if psychotherapeutic treatment is not necessary,” the legislative priorities document says.
The document calls Maryland a state that has made “great strides” in social politics, and that the SGA expects the government to join them “in an effort to represent minority groups in the most effective way possible.”
In addition to the statewide social gains that this lobbying effort could produce, Jaffri said there was another reason he was looking forward to it.
“I am excited for the transgender initiative because my hope is that a legislator will reach out to me for a collaborative effort to help compose a bill that is aimed at advancing transgender rights in Maryland,” Jaffri said.
Securing the operating budget
According to the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, about 23 percent of Towson’s operating budget comes from money appropriated from the state of Maryland. Towson, however, receives only a fraction of the money from the state that the University of Maryland, College Park does. Towson is one of the lowest-funded schools in the University System of Maryland.
However, despite the lack of state funds, “Towson continues to receive recognition for being one of the nation’s most efficiently-run universities, according to the U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and the Princeton Review.”
The document calls for a securing of a $110.2 million allocation from the state.
Capital improvement projects
Towson University recently won a victory when Hogan’s proposed budget included funding for a new science building for Towson’s campus. The new building is slated to go between 7800 York Road and Stephens Hall.
The SGA’s document also advocates for a new College of Health Professions building. According to multiple University resources, including versions of the Master Plan and the SGA’s agenda, the college is split between six different locations on campus and has undergone significant growth in the past five years.
If funding for the project can be raised, the legislative priorities document explains that the new build would “enable program integration and expansion in areas of critical Maryland workforce need, including the fields of nursing, occupational therapy, speech and hearing, and graduate health degree programs.”
–Sam Shelton contributed to this article.