The Michigan Student Assembly has another opportunity to augment the inadequately thin representation students receive at local and state levels of government. The Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, also known as PIRGIM, has asked MSA to help shoulder the cost of an on-campus charter. Though hardly cheap, a local PIRGIM chapter would bring needed advocacy to some of the most pressing issues facing the student body — sponsorship that would more than make up for any initial operating expenses. It has now become evident that MSA cannot do justice to its policy pledges alone. If MSA representatives are sincere about standing behind the student body, they should not hesitate to accept outside assistance.
Although it has not been funded by the University since the 1980s, PIRGIM, fortunately as an independent student organization, has been doing all it can to fight for student concerns over the last decade. Unfortunately, while lofty in its ambitions, PIRGIM has been hamstrung by a lack of resources and by and large financial isolation from its larger umbrella organization. A formal charter would give PIRGIM access to state and nationally based campaign resources as well, as a pool of professional personnel — all trained in the art of grassroots advocacy.
The group has requested $20,000 from MSA’s discretionary budget to help pay down the cost of becoming a nationally recognized charter. The money would finance a one-year test trial, whereupon MSA and the University Board of Regents would eventually determine if the organization is to receive permanent funding. During the test year, PIRGIM plans to begin work on what it highlights as its largest and most urgent campaign — student housing.
Affordable and reliable off-campus housing is undoubtedly one of the most burning issues confronting the student body. PIRGIM claims it can use its campaign resources to bring students the extra leverage necessary to pressure landlords and city officials to address the problem. As is characteristic of PIRG chapters across the nation, PIRGIM would ground any advocacy work in careful and methodical demographic research. In this light, MSA could work in conjunction with PIRGIM — supplementing the group’s advocacy approach with legal and financial support.
The organization’s scope isn’t limited to housing. High textbook prices, voting reform and urban sprawl are all issues on PIRGIM’s plate for the upcoming year. On voter reform, PIRGIM stands with State Sen. Liz Brater’s (D-Ann Arbor) idea to ease voting laws on Michigan residents and to give state employees Election Day off — teachers would be included, taking the pressure off of students to vote between classes. To confront the rising costs of textbooks, PIRGIM plans to flood publishers with bad press — hopefully encouraging more transparency from the companies and likely fostering consumer awareness about the price inequities.
Unaffordable living costs and inflated textbook prices are just two of the many troubles troubling student life at the University. MSA’s progress on these matters has been modest at best, and the need for more student representation has never been more apparent. A chartered PIRGIM on campus, with its positive reputation and potential pool of resources, could prove invaluable for students and the representatives in MSA working for them. Given its current goals for affordable housing, MSA should welcome all the help it can get.