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The Dartmouth
April 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College is the only Ivy not spending to lobby

Preparation for the upcoming fiscal cliff and potential sequestration dominated the lobbying efforts of higher education institutions this year, according to National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities Director for Budget and Appropriations Stephanie Giesecke.

Dartmouth was the only Ivy League school that did not officially spend money lobbying between Jan. 1 and Jun. 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. However, the College uses its ties with New Hampshire and Vermont congressional delegations, alumni connections in Washington, D.C., and membership in several national higher education advocacy organizations to further its institutional interests in state and federal policy, according to Associate Vice Provost for Government Relations Martha Austin.

In contrast, the University of Pennsylvania spent $382,513, Yale University spent $260,000, Harvard University spent $250,000, Princeton University spent $170,000, Columbia University spent $106,931, Cornell University spent $100,000 and Brown University spent $23,506 during the first two lobbying quarters of 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

While other Ivy League institutions have physical offices in Washington that lobby regularly on Capitol Hill, Dartmouth can maintain a strong relationship with the New Hampshire and Vermont congressional delegations without this presence, according to Austin, who said she travels to Washington at least once a month.

"Our congressional delegations are more than happy to talk to Dartmouth any time [College representatives] call," she said.

For example, when the Orozco murals in Baker Library were nominated to be a National Historic Landmark, Austin said she contacted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to ask if she would advocate on the College's behalf to the National Park Service.

The College communicates its views through active participation in organizations like NAICU, the Science Coalition and the American Council on Education, Austin said.

NAICU approaches advocacy from the perspective of nonprofit, four-year institutions and advocates primarily on issues of student aid, accountability regulations and tax policy, Giesecke said. Individual universities' government relations offices take care of specific programmatic interests.

NAICU and other associations effectively lobby on issues that impact the wider higher education community by providing a unified message to Congress, according to Austin.

"If we're talking about big issues, then it's more effective to band together," Austin said. "They don't want to hear from 100 different universities. They'd like to hear that 100 universities believe X.'"

Giesecke said that NAICU and other higher education advocacy organizations meet regularly to ensure they consistently represent educational interests.

According to Austin, the College has been "pretty vocal" about the impact the fiscal cliff would have on universities and said she thinks Congress is "pretty well aware" of views toward sequestration in higher education.

Representatives from national higher education advocacy organizations and university government relations offices said that sequestration would be detrimental to universities nationwide.

The budget cuts would have lasting impacts and "would be a disaster for the country," Association of American Universities Vice President for Public Affairs Barry Toiv said.

For example, Cornell University stands to lose approximately $600 million in federal funding for research and student financial aid programs if sequestration occurs, according to Dianne Miller, the university's director of federal relations.

Because federal funding is critical to Cornell's operations and could not be replaced by philanthropy if federal support were cut or substantially reduced, lobbying in Washington is vital to the institution, Miller said. Cornell itself is a large factor in its local economy's success, she said, citing the county's low unemployment rate.

"It's important to have someone here in D.C. explain the economic impact of having a healthy Cornell University in Tompkins County, New York," she said.

Cornell's Washington office was created in 1999 to provide the university with more immediate contact with New York's congressional delegations.

Penn's Office of Federal Relations Associate Vice President Bill Andresen said that, considering the economy's uncertainty, ensuring that members of Congress and congressional staffs understand the importance of federal funding for universities and the research they produce is critical.

"It's important for them to understand that the money that goes to places like Penn and Dartmouth and Yale is a worthwhile and beneficial investment for the federal government and for taxpayers," he said.

Defending spending on research grants and student financial aid programs such as Pell Grants is difficult in today's climate, in which Congress is focused on cutting spending, Miller said.

"When you have to try to explain that not all spending is bad spending, it's a challenge," she said.

While many schools pursue individual advocacy initiatives at state and federal levels, the AAU attempts to combine forces and steer the work of its members, Toiv said. The organization uses its member institutions' reputations to gain influence in Congress, he said.

"We're not under the illusion that we're better known than our individual members so we try to leverage their accomplishments into a more powerful force on Capitol Hill," Toiv said.