Students get to talk with Michigan politicians

Nearly 50 Oakland University students exercised their civic rights and spoke to the men and women that represent them when they toured the State Capitol in Lansing Tuesday.

OU Student Congress sponsored the annual trip to the halls of the Michigan state legislature as part of its “OU at the Capitol” campaign.

Students had the opportunity to sit in on sessions of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as participate in small group meetings with legislators of both houses. OU also sponsored a luncheon in which legislators ate with and informally talked to OU students, faculty and staff.

For Kenyetta Smith, a senior communications major, the trip represented an opportunity to observe firsthand the intricate details of a profession she hopes to call her own in the future.

“I want to be a politician, so this was just an opportunity to look behind the scenes, and get a feel for that,” Smith said.

One of the behind-the-scenes glimpses Smith had the fortune to witness came when she and group of roughly a dozen other OU students held a discussion with Senate Majority Leader Michael Bishop. Bishop, a Republican who represents Rochester and its surrounding areas, fielded a number of questions from students, most of which were centered on curbing rapidly accelerating rises in tuition.

Bishop said creating affordable higher education is a bipartisan issue and one that virtually every member in the legislature views as one of the chief priorities of higher education.

“This [tough economic period] is a good thing for government to go through, because you go back to the basics of figuring out what your core principles are and then set priorities for your spending,” Bishop said. “It speaks directly to the quality of life in our community.”

Bishop pledged to the students that he would do everything in his power to “look out for students.”

“The university and I have been developing a great relationship over the years, and I think we’ve got a good thing going.”

Smith said that, while her political ambitions remain strong, she does not believe her encounter with Bishop will have an impact on the cost of tuition.

“This gave me kind of a small perspective on how things work, and basically I think it is a bunch of malarkey,” Smith said. “I still have a lot of interest in it, but I don’t think coming here is going to make a difference in higher education at all.”

Jordan Twardy, vice president of OUSC, said the event was much better run than it has been in the past and gave students a more valuable experience.

Twardy said the casual atmosphere of the luncheon provided students with an opportunity to engage with important decision makers and better relate to the people that represent them.

“I think it was really important, because how many times in your life are you going to get to talk to politicians like that,” he said.

“Most of the time, when you’re talking to your representative, it’s scripted, it’s structured. Just being able to talk to them back and forth just really puts a human face on the whole representative government thing,” Twardy said.

Jean Ann Miller, director of the Center for Student Activities, differs with Smith in that she is hopeful that the dialogue between OU students and the state legislators will move government to address escalating tuition costs more urgently.

“I hope they see how genuine the students are about wanting to complete their education,” Miller said. “I hope they see how important [education at OU] is to the big scheme of things — the state of Michigan, Oakland County — I hope that really came through.”

“We keep hearing things about people not being able to get jobs here, or they get an education and they move out of the state,” she said. “Hopefully they realize that [these students] want to get their education in Michigan and are committed to Michigan.”

Twardy, who ran for city council in Warren last year, said he wishes to pursue politics in the future and hopes other students will be inspired to do so after visiting the Capitol.

“With the way it is organized now, I am sure it will continue,” Twardy said. “This is hugely important for students. It gives them a window inside their government. A lot of the people I spoke to hadn’t been to Lansing before. So for them to have this experience, it is huge.”