Officials, students discuss reform


Emily Williams

Alabama state representatives discussed education reform and job creation at an Honors College Town Hall event Sunday night.

“Capitol to the Capstone: Reshaping Alabama’s Image to Keep Alabama’s Graduates” gave students the opportunity to hear members of the Alabama House of Representatives and one Alabama senator. The event, held at the Hotel Capstone, was presented by the Honors College and the Student Government Association.

Outgoing SGA Vice President for External Affairs Parker Graham said the event was a continuation of Higher Education Day on Feb. 25, when a group of students went to the State Capitol building in Montgomery to lobby for student loan reform, tuition reform and changes in higher education.

(See also “SGA sponsors trip for UA students to Montgomery“)

In an introductory video, students asked 200 undergraduates how likely they were to stay in Alabama after graduation on a scale of 1 to 10. The average response for in-state students was 5.4 and the average response for out of state students was 3.5.

Reps. John Merrill, Bill Poole, Chris England and Sen. Gerald Allen, all alumni of The University of Alabama, discussed ways of encouraging students to live and work in Alabama after graduation. After brief statements from all the legislators, four student-submitted questions were posed.

In response to the question about “reshaping,” Allen said the state should allocate tax money to recruit research to the University.

Merrill was asked what new initiatives were being planned to attract new businesses to the state. Merrill talked about the success of the Mercedes-Benz plant and suggested further development along I-20 between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

“We need to build on what we’ve done before,” Merrill said. “New jobs are the best way to grow our economy, grow our tax base and grow educational opportunities.”

A student asked Poole what role students should play in improving Alabama’s reputation. Poole said the most important thing students can do is to get involved, volunteer and share their ideas with their legislators.

“You would be surprised the impact you [as a student] have when you call your legislator,” Poole said.

Finally, England addressed the question of what area needs the greatest reform in state government. He said the state’s antiquated constitution holds back reform efforts. He stressed the need for a constitutional convention to completely rewrite the document, which he called “a crutch … rooted in hatred, racism and segregation.”

(See also “Judicial override on trial: state justice system permits judges to modify sentencing“)

Madelyn Schorr, a sophomore majoring in anthropology and art, is president of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a group that encourages millennials to write policy and implement their ideas.

“I wanted to be part of it and engage in the democratic process,” Schorr said. “I thought it would be a good idea to come here and learn more about where higher education stands in Alabama and come up with some ideas of how we can fix it and present them to my organization.”

Cari Grace Lutkins, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a member of the SGA lobby board.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I thought it was really great and I thought they spoke really honestly, which is good for politicians,” Lutkins said. “I think it’s good that they realize that we do have a lot of growing to do and they’re not just saying that everything is great. I thought this was really helpful and I’m more encouraged to get involved in different campaigns.”

Graham closed the evening by thanking the legislators and the participants and encouraging students to get involved further with SGA’s higher education efforts.

“We’re kind of in a little bubble on campus; it’s hard to reach out to your legislators, and sometimes it’s very hard for them to come in,” Graham said. “So this helps with that, too. It gets people engaged, shows interest.”

(See also “Bama Covered educates public on health care“)