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Feature

Vote for the U signs on Northrop Mall on the first day of class.

"Vote for the U" signs popped up on Northrop Mall on the first day of classes as the campaign moved to the U campuses.

Faculty and staff vote for the U

From Brief, September 15, 2004

Like mushrooms overnight, "Vote for the U" signs popped up on Northrop Mall and around the Twin Cities campus last week on the first day of class.

The lawn signs helped to kick off a campaign to generate excitement and get students, faculty, and staff engaged in the upcoming election. "Vote for the U" makes it easy for the U community to vote by helping people to register and providing the tools to get educated before going to the polls on November 2.


Pledge to vote!

Show state and federal candidates that Minnesotans value the U. Go to http://ga4.org/campaign /vote4m.

"Vote for the U" debuted at the State Fair, gathering more than 2,000 pledges to vote to hold elected officials to campaign promises to support higher education.

On September 14, the tally was just shy of 2,500. That's a quarter of the 10,000-pledge goal by election day.

The campaign is the latest effort of the U's Legislative Network, a grassroots initiative to bring the U and higher education into the forefront of Minnesotans' political consciousness.

"'Vote for the U' is also about building support for the University at the capitol and throughout our communities," says Mike Dean, who staffs the Legislative Network.

Making higher education a priority at the polls

The way the legislative wind blows is vitally important to the U. State support, which has traditionally represented about a third of the U's budget, has now fallen to slightly more than a quarter, making it necessary to raise tuition and take other serious cost-cutting measures.

In a time of unprecedented divisiveness in the national presidential race, Dean and all of those who work to get people involved in the political process are casting their votes in favor of an intelligent and informed citizenship.

President Bruininks recorded a public service announcement with Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and two U students to urge students to register to vote, to take charge of their future, and to support higher education.

Scores of volunteers at the fair, including some normally shy faculty and staff, overcame their Minnesota reserve to ask people to sign a pledge to vote for a candidate who supports higher education and the University...and then to hold that candidate to his or her promises once elected. They handed out "Vote for the U" buttons and lawn signs, while urging people to talk to their family and friends about the importance of the U to Minnesota.

Grassroots on campus

With the first day of class, "Vote for the U" moved to the campuses.

Partners in the campaign include the U's Center for the Study of Politics, the Council on Public Engagement, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the Minnesota Student Association, and the Student Public Affairs Coalition.

Meet Mike Dean

Mike Dean ran for the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council at age 19 (and lost by five votes). He is a community organizer, devoted to showing people that individuals can make a difference.

A year ago, Dean took on the grassroots efforts of the Legislative Network. By grassroots, he means power moving from the bottom up.

"It's the idea that when people lead, the leaders will follow," he says.

Other groups, formal and informal, large and small, are getting involved.

University Libraries is one group. For the first time, faculty, staff, and students can get voter registration cards in almost all the libraries on the Twin Cities campus. They can pick them up and mail them themselves, or they can get help filling them out, and volunteers will hand-deliver them to the appropriate county election office.

"The American Library Association has a big push for voter registration this year," says Kathy Robbins, a recently-retired reference librarian from the Biomedical Library. "That helped, too."

At a welcome event at the College of Human Ecology (CHE), faculty, staff, and students enjoyed a picnic but also registered to vote and signed "Vote for the U" pledges. Deb Snouffer, assistant to the director of the School of Social Work, teamed up with two other CHE staff members to provide an opportunity to register to vote at the college welcome event.

"We were there about an hour and 15 minutes, and we had 40 cards that I ran over to Mike's office," says Snouffer. "We got people who had moved or changed their names to fill out cards, too."

Combatting cynicism

The pledge to hold your elected officials to their word is particularly potent, given citizen apathy when it comes to politics. The Legislative Network is designed to give back the power of citizenship.

"This campaign is only the first step in building a relationship with people who will continue to support the University in the future," says Dean. "This much support so early is evidence of how important people believe the U is to their daily lives."

You can help

Find out more about the "Vote for the U" campaign. Register to vote, sign the "Vote for the U" pledge, or find out what you can do to help on your campus or in your college or unit. Go to http://www.umn.edu /groots/vote.

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