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Bruin Tracks: Heroes Wanted

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By Andrew Bender

Published Apr 1, 2010 8:00 AM


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In these financially unstable times, California's state budget problems are worse than most, and the University of California took a particularly hard hit. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget restored about $305 million of the funding that previously had been cut from the university's budget. But that budget still needs to wend its way through the legislature, and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block notes that "it still falls short of the $902-million need identified in the Regents' budget." That's a gap of nearly $600 million. Plus, Block continues, "the state economy remains weak [and] the governor's proposal depends on a major infusion of new federal funds."

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"I don't think it's too Chicken Little to say that the sky is falling," says Jennifer Poulakidas '89, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and chair of the Alumni Association's Advocacy Task Force. "The situation that the UC is in — and thereby UCLA — is so serious that the value of our degree and the strength and excellence of our beloved alma mater are in serious danger of spiraling down. We should care about the reputation of our institution, because our own reputations are at stake."

The good news: Alumni are among UCLA's most effective advocates. According to Manny Baldenegro, director of advocacy programs for UCLA Government and Community Relations, there are three important ways alumni can take action:

Bruin Caucus. This volunteer advocacy group includes some 5,000 members, speaking out on behalf of UCLA in e-mails, phone calls, letters and personal meetings with decision-makers on local, state and national levels. California's system of term limits creates the challenge of educating a constant crop of new legislators.

UCLA Days in Washington, D.C. On May 10-12, Bruin alumni will meet with members of Congress to push for federal support of the university. There were also visits to state government in March and local dates planned for autumn.

Write letters to your legislator after the revision of the state budget in May. UC's lobbyist in Sacramento and offices of the President and State Government Relations will analyze how it impacts the university and make recommendations.

If you've never done this form of advocacy before, UCLA Government and Community Relations offers an annual workshop to train alumni. "We really rely on volunteers for our advocacy activities throughout the year," says Baldenegro, in events such as forums with potential candidates and meet-your-legislator events.

"People might think, 'What does it matter if I reach out to my state senator?' " says Poulakidas. "But nothing resonates more with legislators than the voices of their own constituents. The university itself can't vote for governor or the state assembly, so it's alumni like us who can make the greatest difference."

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