Have you ever donated to a political action committee? If you are a student at the University of Maine, you have. Just as an average Maine resident can submit testimony on bills in Augusta, so can the University of Maine System. As we enter the short-term legislative session next semester, we will see how UMaine chooses to lobby for or against us.
You can see here the testimony they submitted on behalf of the university against student representation on the board of trustees. Not only is the administration at UMaine testifying in favor of bills I don’t agree with, but this written testimony, in particular, is insulting to students, as it insinuates that we don’t deserve representation and that we are not capable of serving in the roles typically filled by Janet Mills’ friends.
Supposedly, this testimony represents the school’s opinion on LD1656. This university cannot put “We are UMaine” flags around this campus because if that were true, that testimony would be written by a student.
The board of trustees testifying is one thing. That is a voluntary position without income. The real shame is when UMaine puts money, our money, into lobbying.
The university should not have any lobbying or government affairs infrastructure that isn’t entirely made up of students. Yet UMS has a full-time lobbyist employed. This lobbyist has fought for students to be excluded from workers’ rights bills in order to save the university money. In 2019, it was reported that Samantha Warren, UMaine’s government affairs director, lobbied the state of Maine to prohibit student workers from accessing benefits workers would have in those states and lobbied against workers’ rights as a whole. This proves that UMaine values profit over students. It is written into the state paid time off bill that the law does not apply to “anyone who works for the university in which they are enrolled as a student.”
While public testimony is available online, the UMS needs to publish to students every time they engage with a piece of legislation. I need to see the action that my university is taking. The real remedy is discontinuing the university’s governmental affairs program altogether. Until then, providing transparency is essential. I want a monthly email of every policy that UMaine engaged with on my behalf.
If a bill will truly help students in the state of Maine, students themselves can go and give public testimony. Testimony is open to anyone who is passionate and wants to give it. The short-term legislative session starts next semester, and I encourage every passionate student to find a bill and give testimony written or in person in Augusta. UMaine and its students should not be considered separate benefactors of policy.
I was warned the publishing of this article might harm me politically or ruffle the feathers of administration. Students are a younger and poorer constituency group in this state. To make real policy action we will have to work together. Whether that’s fighting for the students at EMCC for free tuition or advocating for the fair treatment of Farmington students as their programs are cut, students need to look out for one another, because the university is not there to look out for us.