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Greenfield Community College

GCC students to determine future of advocacy group

Recorder/Paul Franz
GCC student David Valiquette signs a petiion supporting MASSPIRG fees presented by Lindsay Jakows, the campus organizer for MASSPIRG on Monday in the main lobby of the school.

Recorder/Paul Franz GCC student David Valiquette signs a petiion supporting MASSPIRG fees presented by Lindsay Jakows, the campus organizer for MASSPIRG on Monday in the main lobby of the school.

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College students will decide this week if they want to keep paying for a local chapter of a political advocacy group.

As a part of the college’s annual Student Senate election, students must vote to continue funding Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) — a Boston-based nonprofit political research and advocacy organization that has had a chapter on campus for the past 30 years.

The 41-year-old organization’s education agenda includes rallying students to participate in political efforts and petitions and lobbying for students’ interests at the state and federal level.

Students pay MASSPIRG through a $9 fee each semester, and have the option to waive that fee. This semester, according to the GCC bursars’ office, nearly 64 percent of students paid the fee — sending just about $11,000 to MASSPIRG.

The vote to keep funding the organization occurs every two years and GCC students have voted “yes” the past 15 times, including a 218-97 vote in 2011.

But this year, the Student Senate has organized a “vote no” campaign, because it argues that the organization has been detached from campus for the better part of two years.

“They’re basically supposed to be on campus and get students involved in political actions that want to,” said Ashley Sears, a student and secretary for the Senate. “They haven’t been at all. We’ve had eight representatives in the past two years.”

Senators have spent the last month talking with students in the lobby and hanging posters throughout campus (one reads, “If your professor stopped showing up for class would you continue to pay them?”)

MASSPIRG officials did not deny recent turnover of its GCC campus organizer — who is charged with visiting the campus to recruit and train students to work on its campaigns — but said that current organizer Lindsay Jakows has been active on campus since she started in November.

Jakows, who is also the campus organizer at Westfield State University, said she has consistently been at the college two days each week. Between five to 10 students in the local chapter meet on Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. in North 220, she said.

GCC students participated in a signature-gathering campaign to ask Gov. Deval Patrick to stop new waste incinerators from being built, said Jakows. Students also sent heart-shaped messages to the Franklin Regional Transit Authority saying what they love about it, and what they’d love to see added to the local transportation service.

Sears contends that MASSPIRG has only become more outspoken about its accomplishments in the past month. She said the organization’s presence before that was virtually nonexistent, and students interested in advocacy and change turned instead to other free groups — like the Green Campus Committee, the Peace and Social Justice Club and VetNet (a support group for veterans).

“We still have clubs and organizations that are focused toward doing great things in the world,” said Sears. “MASSPIRG has never really been there for us to utilize, so we’ve always had different outlets to go to.”

Samantha Gibb, organizing director for MASSPIRG, rebutted the Senate’s position that students’ money has been wasted. Only part of students’ optional fees go toward the campus organizer position, she said. The fees also pay for staff to research, organize and “package” campaigns — and to pay for lobbyists in Boston and Washington, D.C., to ask for things like lower student loan rates.

But even though students can waive the fees, the Senate said that most students do not — either because they don’t know about it, or don’t know how to opt out.

Just over 36 percent of students waived the fee this semester, although it is impossible to know the rationale behind their decisions.

“I respect the work that they (MASSPIRG) do and the agenda they have,” said GCC President Roberta Pura. “I also respect our Student Senate’s recent decision to put to the student body the question of whether or not the MASSPIRG charges should remain as a default.”

Students can vote online, using GCC’s Moodle platform, through today. Results will be announced later this week.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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