OSPIRG is funded by students through the incidental fee to help our colleges fulfill their mission to “serve the people of Oregon, the nation and the world”. This funding allows students to hire experts and organizers to work both on and off campus to fix health care, solve global warming, stop credit card rip-offs make textbooks affordable and more.
How we do what we do
OSPIRG’s mission is ambitious. Our culture doesn’t naturally foster a deep understanding and interest in civic participation in public affairs. This creates many obstacles to educating and engaging students in social issues.
Meanwhile, public interest work itself is challenging. Powerful interests often use vast resources to influence our government and the marketplace to act in ways counter to the public interest. Students’ resources are limited when compared to those of powerful interests.
At OSPIRG we believe that education and action are symbiotic. By learning about, arguing over and acting on public interest in a real world context, the entire campus acquires greater knowledge about specific issues, citizenship skills, and a deeper understanding about what it means to be an American.
We also know, as a student-funded organization, that it is important to use our resources as effectively as possible and in a way that is accountable to the student body.
Our approach can be boiled down to eight programmatic and organizational strategies.
1. We conduct research to clarify problems and highlight solutions.
A healthy democracy needs independent, nonpartisan research to help inform public policy debates.
2. We educate the public.
Research means little if the public doesn’t know about it. We work to educate the entire student body and surrounding community about the findings of our research, using methods such as class and group presentations, campus events, online organizing, media events, and community partnerships.
3. We give students tools to take action, because education is only the first step towards change.
We first strive to provide simple ways for even the busiest people to take action on the issues they care about—from signing petitions to donating canned food to local hunger programs.
For students willing to make bigger time commitments, campus organizers run a holistic leadership training program for students, teaching a range of civic engagement skills to hundreds of student volunteers and interns. Finally, we partner with other campus and community groups to magnify the impact of all students.
4. We take our research directly to decision-makers in places like Salem and Washington, D.C.
OSPIRG research and public engagement helps give state and federal leaders a public interest perspective—and has often made an impact on high-stakes decisions that affect the public.
5. The decision to fund OSPIRG is made democratically by the entire student body and revisited periodically.
Funding for OSPIRG was initially established following campuswide referenda. OSPIRG has put its funding up for a campuswide or student government votes every one to three years since then. All of this ensures that OSPIRG is accountable only to the student body and the college mission.
6. The organization is controlled by students.
OSPIRG’s budget, staff and program are 100% controlled by an all-student Board of Directors, elected from each of the OSPIRG chapters.
7. We employ professional staff.
Our staff help students avoid wasting valuable time reinventing the wheel by providing them with the tools and knowledge to take action right when they walk in the door.
Our campus organizers run a training program open to all students who want to learn valuable leadership and civic engagement skills, for example: working with the media, building a coalition, training and managing volunteers, planning, and public speaking.
Our advocates do background research and issue briefings so that students have the facts they need to run effective projects, monitor developments in government, provide officials with timely research, and alert the students and community when their input is important to overcome powerful interests.
8. We share costs with other campuses and like-minded organizations.
It would be difficult for one campus alone to pay for an organization like OSPIRG. We get part of the way there by pooling resources together with a few colleges in Oregon—University of Oregon, Lane Community College, and Southern Oregon University. We then also share some overhead and staffing costs with Oregon State PIRG, OSPIRG Foundation and PIRGs in 20 other states.
These cost-sharing arrangements help students run more campaigns and make a big impact—at a fraction of the actual cost to do so. For example, because of these cost-sharing arrangements, we can maintain eight staff for the cost of just 4.7 full-time equivalents.
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Work on important issues, learn valuable skills, get hands-on experience, and make a difference.