Kent State lobbyists assist with university’s strategic roadmap

As universities embark on campus improvement projects, research and awarding financial aid, many public universities achieve this by collaborating in the legislature, otherwise known as lobbying.

According to the 2015 Ohio Lobbying Statistics Report from the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, lobbying is “based on the subject matter a lobbyist is attempting to influence, Ohio law categorizes engagements as either: legislative engagements, executive engagements, or retirement system engagements.”

Nick Gattozzi, executive director of Government & Community Relations at Kent State, works between campus, Washington D.C. and Columbus, Ohio to lobby in legislation for the university’s interests.

Gattozzi said on a day-to-day basis, they work to meet the goals of the university and the strategic roadmap President Beverly Warren has implemented.

He added that they also monitor what’s happening in D.C. and Columbus, then make those connections to the roadmap.

“For Kent State University, we work with our elected officials trying to find areas where there’s commonality in things that will advance the university,” Gattozzi said. “It’s really about building relationships and just spending that time with them so they understand what the issues are that are of concern to the university (and) to our students.”

Within the 14 public universities in Ohio, organizations such as the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Inter-University Council handles the blocking of tackling higher education, Gattozzi said.

While universities lobby for a number of things, one the Government & Community Relations team goes for is the research funding for Kent State.

“(We work with) agencies: Department of Defense, National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation to identify funding opportunities for our researchers, working collaboratively with our researchers to find those opportunities and go after them,” Gattozzi said.

The Government and Community Relations office at Kent State is a fairly new entity, Gattozzi said, coming to just over a year old. Before then, people reported to University communications and marketing, the legal counsel’s office, and the CFO office.

“With the creation of the office I have now, it was to bring all of that together, because of the interconnectivity of community relations which is really a lot of engagement at the local level,” Gattozzi said.

He also credited Warren in the beginnings of the new office.

“(Warren is) acknowledging the fact that someone has done that kind of work before, so that there is a day to day focus on those activities,” Gattozzi said.

The university also works to foster the best interest for the campus and its students.

Q&A: How do universities lobby? from KentWired.com on Vimeo.

Braden Oxender, a state relations director, works to represent Kent State in Columbus.

He is in charge of working closely with the state government elected and administrative officials, as well as representing the voices for higher education with the legislature and Office of Governor.

Over the past years, Oxender said he has advocated for many issues concerning KSU, including a recent bill that would allow for concealed weapons on campus, funding issues, College Credit Plus regulations and credit hour restrictions.

“As originally proposed, the concealed carry legislation would have mandated that KSU, and all other higher education institutions, (to) allow concealed carry on campuses,” Oxender said. “Through the work of lobbyists for various higher education institutions, the final language that the legislature passed recognizes that institutions in Ohio are not ‘one size fits all.’”

He added that the Board of Trustees know what is best for campuses in Ohio, and the passed language would allow Board of Trustees to create their own policies — either allowing or not allowing concealed weapons on campus.

Last semester the Capital Budget Bill was passed, which help with the needs of infrastructure in state institutions.

Gattozzi said those are dollars that the state provides to the university for academic buildings, maintenance and additions.

“Although we haven’t used those dollars for the construction, if you look at the Kent campus — the science corridor — that was several iterations of capital funds that are building the science corridor,” Gattozzi said. “As well as dollars that the university is putting forward.

Oxender also said that there are issues when it comes to funding.

He said that higher education spending essentially comes from two sources: the state share of instruction — which are tax dollars that the legislature allocates towards a student’s education — and student tuition.

“In theory, the more funding that the state allocates in the state share of instruction, the less funds are needed through student tuition,” Oxender said.

Oxender said, he, along with the Office of Government and Community Relations, has also guided members of Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government through in order to inform them on initiatives throughout Ohio.

For example, Oxender has assisted with USG’s smoke-free campus initiative, which will take effect in July 2017.

Oxender said by working with the university and student government, they were able to implement a smoke-free policy without the need for state legislation mandating that they do so.

Samuel Graska, USG’s president, said Oxender assisted with making sure the language for the resolution was up to par.

“It’s a whole other world when it comes to lobbying, the political stuff that we went over when writing the resolution for a smoke-free campus …” Graska said.

Currently, Graska said that USG passed a resolution to support expanded protections in Kent, specifically in response to the Fair Housing Act.

“Kent currently was able to discriminate, essentially, about who was living in the houses,” Graska said. “And it was considered legal. So the Fair Housing Act made sure that they can’t do that.”

That resolution is also something that USG has been working closely with Gattozzi and Oxender on with, along with anything else that might be adopted as campus policy.

Additional Links:
Inter-University Council of Ohio
Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities
Lobbying Spending Database