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FAN promotes political activism

February 8, 2007

If the words “public policy” or “budget deficit” are said to a university student, they will most likely be met with indifference or a lack of interest.

Unfortunately, it is a challenge today to motivate college students to be aware of the political climate, much less get them involved in changing it.

UW-River Falls has decided it is time for this to change by introducing the Falcon Action Network (FAN).

The basic purpose of FAN is to keep the public informed about what is happening in the Wisconsin legislature and get them involved. Mark Kinders, public affairs director for UWRF, is very enthusiastic about FAN and said he is confident that it will do just that.

“The legislature expects to hear from the chancellor, the Faculty Senate and the Student Senate, but they need to hear more than that,” Kinders said. “The intent [of FAN] is to have a lot of voice in speaking to the legislature.”

Kinders estimates that in each state legislative session, there are between five and 10 bills introduced that have some kind of impact on the University. It is important to raise awareness of these issues and what they entail.

Recently, the state legislature dealt with controversy related to females on campus having access to the morning-after pill. Kinders said there was also an issue in which a faculty member could have been potentially liable for a student accident that happened while working in an on-campus lab.

A small percentage of students on campus were aware of these issues, and an even smaller percentage took action. With the introduction of FAN, the University hopes to increase the number of students who participate politically.

“The reason we need this is because in the last five to six years we took a real beating in the legislature,” Kinders said. “$345 million were cut from the University, and although some of that was made up through tuition increases, we still suffered a net loss.”

Because issues have a direct effect on students in many areas including tuition, it’s extremely important that they understand that being aware is only the first step, and taking action is a critical part of the process.

While most of the action is centered around the state legislature, FAN will also inform its members of significant federal issues.

Anyone can become a member of FAN; it’s available to UWRF students, faculty, alumni and friends. To become a member, register at the Web site http://www.uwrf.edu/fan and clicking the “register” link.

Most likely, FAN members will receive information through different avenues. Kinders said that there is the possibility of a newsletter, as well as e-mails that persuade students to take action. These e-mails are what UW-Madison has deemed “action alerts.”

“If we see certain legislature and take a strong position on it, we’ll send out something asking members to take action — for example, the Minnesota and Wisconsin reciprocity issue,” Kinders said.

As previously stated, FAN is a network, meaning that UWRF works with UW-Milwaukee’s Panther Advocates and UW-Madison’s Alumni for Wisconsin (previously known as the Badger Action Network). With the help of these other, more established networks, Kinders said he anticipates that FAN will continue to expand its membership base.

“There are many others who want to join and who will want to stay informed,” Kinders said. “Now it’s just a handful, but in a month or so, maybe 100-150 people.”

With over 100,000 students in the UW System and 26 campuses spread around the state, issues constantly arise that students need to hear about.

“[The goal of FAN is to] pick issues carefully and explain them thoroughly,” Kinders said.

Although students were unaware of FAN when first approached, some agreed after learning about it that this was just the thing to motivate students politically.

“Up until now, they couldn’t care — they didn’t have a reason to care,” senior Amanda Grey said.

Faculty Senate chair Wes Chapin recently joined FAN and said he believes it is a good way to get information across to concerned individuals, as well as potentially influence the decision-making process in Madison.

“Ultimately, FAN should help to increase the chances that the governor and the legislature will work to strengthen higher education in Wisconsin because politicians respond to contacts from potential voters,” Chapin said. “Anything we can do to send messages to politicians that we are concerned and that we are demanding action should help move the UWRF agenda along.”