Representatives from the Fort Lewis College Student Senate addressed the Durango City Council on Tuesday night to ask
for support in opposing a proposed bill that would weaken the college's Native American student tuition-waiver
FLC student senator John Toplyn and nine others urged councilors to pick up the cause of keeping the FLC's free-tuition
program intact as representatives in Denver look for fat in the budget to cut.
This won't just affect Native American students at Fort Lewis, it will affect everyone here, the entire community," he
said in a short presentation during the meeting's public-comment portion.
He said the tuition waiver is one of the most important features of the college and reflects a long-standing promise
between the U.S. government and Native Americans.
A bill proposed by Aurora Democrat Karen Middleton would cut $1.8 million per year from the tuition-waiver program, so
out-of-state students are compensated for only the cost of instruction, not their out-of-state tuition. Officials at
FLC have said they will continue to fund the tuition of Native American students if the law passes but will have to lay
off faculty and staff to do so.
The bill has galvanized Native American groups in the country and disparate student groups at FLC, said Alray Nelson,who started a Facebook group opposing the bill that had more than 1,600 members as of Tuesday night.
The tuition-waiver program at FLC provides free tuition to all Native American students, regardless of their state of
origin. Colorado agreed in 1911 to provide free education to students of a state-run boarding school, originally housed
in an old army outpost in Hesperus. As the school gradually expanded into a four-year college, it was understood by
school administrators that the terms of the original treaty were written to provide free tuition for all Native
American students enrolled at Fort Lewis.
Today, about 750 of FLC's 3,700 students are Native Americans who receive free tuition.
Toplyn asked the council to draft a letter supporting their grass-roots efforts. City Manager Ron LeBlanc said a letter
of support would be ready by the time the Student Senate meets at 7 p.m. today. He said this issue is an example of
Front Range lawmakers acting against Western Slope interests.
Councilor Michael Rendon said he was moved by the passion he saw on display at Tuesday's meeting.
It's very inspiring to see you up here," he said. We're going to do what we can to help you."
Nelson invited concerned residents to attend a public meeting at noon today at the Native American Center in the Miller
Building at FLC.
In other business:
- The council approved a conditional-use permit and right-of-way abandonments for the Downtown Durango Condominiums
project, proposed by developer Scott McCallister. One resident, who did not wish to give her name to the Herald, felt
some neighbors would oppose the project but were not given adequate notice of Tuesday's public hearing.
The woman left before her complaint was addressed by the council.
This is a great example of infill," said Rendon. Of course, I like the green building aspects, too. I wouldn't
support this project if it didn't have them."
An amendment stipulated that McCallister would handle snow removal for the sidewalks outside the building.
Members of the Fort Lewis College mountain bike team were honored in a proclamation for winning a national
championship last year.
The city's legislative program for 2010 was approved unanimously by council.
The council unanimously endorsed a strategic assessment of the city's current Land Use and Development Code, written by the city's consultants Kendig Keast.