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  December 11, 2000

Volunteers Launch Grass Roots Advocacy Effort

A volunteer, grass roots organization involving UConn alumni, donors, faculty, staff, and friends has begun working to gain support for the University during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

Chaired by Patrick Sheehan, a 1967 alumnus of the University and former chair of the UConn Foundation, UConn Advocates have been mapping a route they hope will lead to greater support for the University's budget and other legislative needs during the 2001 session of the General Assembly. The effort is part of a long-term program to build support for the University. State support, the advocates say, is vital for UConn to attain its goal of becoming one of the top public universities in the nation.

"We want to tell the governor and the legislature, 'You've done a great job with the University. Now, let's build on that by continuing to invest in UConn,'" Sheehan says.

He says members of the steering committee are concerned that work already done to rebuild the campus, structurally and academically, will be undermined unless the University's budget enables the hiring of additional faculty and staff to keep up with the enormous enrollment growth of the past few years, and also to continue offering quality programs to students. Without more faculty and staff, there will not be enough to handle the load.

"Without it, I can see us getting back into the binds we faced a few years ago," Sheehan says.

UConn Advocates is being built on a grass roots model that achieved success in the past few years. Grass roots support from tens of thousands of UConn alumni and Connecticut residents led to passage in 1995 of the UConn 2000 program, and a similar effort last year generated enough support to convince Gov. John G. Rowland and legislative leaders to approve funding for a new UConn football stadium, and provide greater support for the UConn Health Center.

The successes convinced advocates that a permanent support structure was necessary.

"It makes sense," says Edward Marth, executive director of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). "Helping the public and the legislature understand how valuable UConn is to the future of Connecticut, what an asset it is to have a great state university, should not be an occasional educational process. It should be ongoing."

The steering committee of UConn Advocates includes representatives from the UConn Foundation, the Alumni Association, the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA), and the AAUP, each of which has provided funding to UConn Advocates for mailings and educational materials. Members of the UConn Club and University Health Professionals (UHP), a professional employees union at the UConn Health Center, also are part of this effort.

It is, says UCPEA President M. Kevin Fahey, an effort well worth supporting.

"If you think about it, it's a no-brainer," Fahey says. "In the most simple terms, the Advocates help educate legislators about why UConn needs support for its operating budget, and urges them to properly fund the University. Proper funding means proper staffing, and that means jobs and paychecks for UCPEA members. How can we not support that?" he asks, rhetorically.

Using targeted mailings, UConn Advocates are seeking new volunteers from lists of UConn alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff and friends. To date, nearly 30,000 people have volunteered to be UConn Advocates.

Another mailing will be sent in early January, asking UConn supporters to urge Gov. John G. Rowland and the legislature to keep UConn as a strategic budget priority as he creates his budget, which will be presented to the legislature in early February.

"We're going through the front door," says Sheehan, the chair of the steering committee. "The state budget is shaped by the early decisions being made now. In the past, we've waited for the budget to be presented, then reacted to what was in it. Too often that put us in the position of having to argue for increases once the budget was already out."

The Advocates' effort will continue with a workshop, scheduled for Jan. 27, at the state Capitol. The workshop is intended to educate UConn supporters about the University's goals and how they can help the University achieve them. Several more mailings also are expected.

"The seeds of a great University have been planted," says Fahey. "Let's hope the legislature will nourish them."

Richard Veilleux