As many civic-minded students deride “special interests,” few realize Marquette employs lobbyists to petition on behalf of financial aid and other student interests.
Steven Schultz, manager of Marquette’s governmental and community affairs, said Marquette has “one of the more robust” lobbying institutions. It employs three lobbyists and six undergraduate employees, many veterans of the Les Aspin Center for Government, though some Jesuit institutions have counterparts, many under the umbrella of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
The Office of Public Affairs petitions for Marquette’s interests on all levels of government from local to federal. It is directed by the University Leadership Council, which determines the direction and policy of the office’s activities, and on which legislation it lobbies.
Given both presidential candidates’ tough rhetoric on “special interests,” Schultz said it would be interesting to see how lobbying on Capitol Hill could change.
“We believe it is not only lawful, but very ethical and moral as well. We have always looked at what will effect the institution and the public, and the way to connect [our work] with the interest of the public,” said Schultz.
“In any profession, some people will abuse their position. We think of [lobbying] as advocacy. That’s a little bit of semantics, I know,” said Schultz.
“Part of lobbying not spoken about outside DC is that lobbyists are a resource for government. We field phone calls asking us if we have a faculty member who could talk about this or that bill. It’s a two-way street,” said Schultz.
The most recent federal legislation which Marquette lobbied for was the 14th renewal of the Higher Education Act, which provides and sets the guidelines for student financial aid. Included in the newest bill was language lobbied by Marquette which “directs accrediting organizations to account for the unique aspects of diverse mission statements in the process,” said Schultz.
Schultz said there has been concern about the retention and prominence of mission statements as an issue of identity retention.
“In our case, and that of other AJCU members, it is a Catholic, Jesuit identity… We believe that it is not in the best interest of anyone to eliminate the diverse missions of colleges and universities through intervention by accreditation agencies or to otherwise have such agencies oversee mission statements of institutions,” Schultz said.
Since Marquette had not yet been frustrated by lack of recognition of its mission, petitioning on behalf of mission-recognizing language in the bill “was preemptive rather than responsive,” Schultz said.
Schultz said there were some provisions of the legislation “[we] wished would have turned out differently.”
“The fear is that the new reporting requirements will create new administrative costs for institutions,” said Schultz. He said new reporting mechanisms for the publication of tuition prices could be run through a government “calculator” that, if done incorrectly, could mislead prospective students and their families as to the real costs of tuition.
The renewed bill also authorizes Pell Grants, need-based financial aids for undergraduate and some graduate students, and streamlines Federal Student Aid applications. Vice President of Public Affairs Rana Altenberg said the Office was funded through the university’s annual operating budget without giving an exact figure. According to the Marquette University 2007 Presidential Report, the university spent $1.095 million dollars on “public service” that year.
According to the watchdog site Open Secrets, Marquette has currently spent $80,000 lobbying budget and appropriation and taxing issues in the United States Senate in 2008. In 2006 and 2007, Marquette spent $120,000 on federal lobbying.
Public Affairs also lends support to local organizations by connecting them with interns and volunteers from service learning projects, said Jane Moberly, executive director of the Avenue West Association, a tax-exempt organization dedicated to achieving improvement in the neighborhoods between I-43 and 27th St. The organization works to enable owner occupancy, improving business prospects and beautification of much of the area surrounding campus.
Most recently, the Association worked with Marquette last semester on a project to request Milwaukee for a median from 16th to 13th St on Wells St. Public Affairs coordinated meetings between the Association and Marquette Student Government, who had advanced the project, provided traffic counts from Public Works, and made expertise and technical skills accessible, said Moberly.
At the most local level, Public Affairs coordinates many events to engage students in political and community life, such as many of higher-profile speakers and ascertaining their appearance is within ethical and legal limits, the election-year Way Forward panel discussions and non-partisan voter drives.
“Marquette is a non-profit organization. Not many people know that,” said Schultz. Consequentially, the university cannot take political positions, least of all Public Affairs.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but we do not give favor to one party or candidate over another…We have to go out and work with all parties on both sides of the aisle,” said Schultz.
The October 2 edition of The Marquette Tribune reported that the Office of Public Affairs was lobbying for exemptions for college campuses for Wisconsin’s concealed carry laws. When asked why Marquette’s stance on the issue was not mentioned in preliminary interviews for this piece, Schultz said he did not say anything about it because the last bill before the Wisconsin legislature on the subject was presented in 2005, and no legislation on the issue is currently pending.
When asked about what protocol student employees of Public Affairs must go through to speak with student media, in an email exchange Altenberg said, “I speak for the Office of Public Affairs. If you have questions regarding the students in my office, please direct them to me.”
Altenberg also said all questions for a part-time advisor to the Vice President of Public Affairs should be directed to her.