Pitt’s ALN Works to Ensure Pa. Legislators Understand University’s Viewpoint, Concerns

Issue Date: 
May 1, 2011

Bruce D. Mountjoy (CGS ’91) was among more than 500 members of the University of Pittsburgh community who assembled in Pennsylvania’s State Capitol rotunda on April 5 as part of the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg. With chants of “P-I-T-T” echoing through the Capitol’s marbled halls, the voices of University of Pittsburgh alumni, faculty, staff, and students were heard loudly and clearly by state lawmakers.

“It’s always encouraging to see so many people with a vested interest in Pitt coming together for the good of the University,” said Mountjoy, who was attending his fourth consecutive Pitt Day in Harrisburg event. Last year, Pitt’s Alumni Association recognized Mountjoy with the 2010 Volunteer of the Year award.

Considered the marquee event of the University’s Alumni Legislative Network (ALN), the annual Pitt Day in Harrisburg gives  University supporters the opportunity to talk about higher-education issues with state legislators.

Such grassroots political advocacy is the basis of all ALN activities. A joint program of Pitt’s Alumni Association and the Office of Governmental Relations, ALN is a nonpartisan organization comprising more than 700 members of the Pitt community who voice their support for the University to their local lawmakers.

“Legislators pay close attention when they hear from someone in their district. When they know it’s a constituent and a potential voter, they listen,” said Paul A. Supowitz, Pitt vice chancellor for governmental relations. “It is important for the University that lawmakers are able to say, ‘I frequently hear from people in my district who have graduated from Pitt, who love Pitt, and who carry convictions about the future well-being of Pitt.’”

Founded in the mid-1990s, ALN evolved from a number of Alumni Association-sponsored efforts to connect students and graduates with state lawmakers. Today, the organization regularly sponsors events that connect the Pitt community with elected officials, including offering workshops on effective ways to interact with legislators.

The organization’s leaders emphasize that membership is open to all members of the Pitt community, not just alumni.

“This year’s Pitt Day in Harrisburg was our most successful, and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve that level of success without an energized student body,” said Jeff Gleim, Pitt associate vice chancellor for alumni relations and executive director of the Pitt Alumni Association. “This organization looks for die-hard lovers of this University who are ready to advocate on its behalf.”

Those advocacy efforts take on a special urgency during the state’s annual budget process.

While Pitt Day in Harrisburg routinely attracts enthusiastic crowds, the 2011 visit to the capital had an added importance because of  the governor’s state budget proposal that calls for 50 percent cuts in state appropriations to Pitt and the three other state-related universities—Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln.

“You could tell there was a legitimate sense of urgency in the air this year,” Mountjoy recalled. “There are very real concerns about how this budget could impact people’s lives, and events like this are invaluable because they give those affected, both directly and indirectly, an opportunity to voice their concerns in a productive manner.”

ALN sprang into action immediately following the governor’s March 5 budget address, which called for cuts of more than $104 million from Pitt’s state appropriation. ALN initiated a mass letter-writing campaign, urged members to call their legislators, and worked to make the 2011 Pitt Day in Harrisburg the biggest in the event’s history.

According to Supowitz, state legislators routinely seek feedback from their constituents about legislative issues. They’re anxious to hear from parents, students, and alumni about the proposed cuts to higher education, said Supowitz, who encourages Pennsylvania residents to contact their legislators so lawmakers can better understand their views about Pitt’s value to the state’s students and to the Commonwealth. Information on how to contact legislators can be found on Pitt’s governmental relations Web site, www.govtrel.pitt.edu/advocacynetwork/resources.html.

“This is not the first time the University has faced a battle with the budget or with a piece of legislation that would be detrimental to Pitt’s interests, and it certainly will not be the last,” said Supowitz. “The important thing is that we were able to mobilize on the grassroots level to make our voices heard.”

ALN’s leaders are quick to point out that the network’s mission is not just to influence state legislators, but also to educate them on pertinent issues.

“We want our volunteers to continuously remind lawmakers of the big picture, the positive impact that fully funding higher education will have on Western Pennsylvania,” said Gleim. “Funding higher education provides a broad impact that supports jobs, future leaders, and medical breakthroughs. Taking funding from higher education is the equivalent of sacrificing the future for what may be a short-term gain.”