Nashua Telegraph: AFP-NH files RTK request regarding UNH conference on sex workers
By DANIELLE CURTIS
DURHAM– When the University of New Hampshire’s Women Studies program wanted to foster a conversation about the laws policing the nation’s sex trade, they went right to the source, bringing in a Californian sex worker, and two advocates for sex workers’ rights from New York City.
The visitors, brought to the university as part of a mini-conference titled, “No bad women: Just bad laws,” cost $2,246.40, including speaker fees, lodging and other factors, according to university media relations Director Erika Mantz.
Of that, $1,085 came out of an endowment fund filled with private fundraising dollars. The remaining $1,161 came out of a few student organizations’ budgets. No state appropriation dollars were used to pay for the event, Mantz said Thursday.
The information was made public after Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, a grass roots organization that advocates for limited government, lower taxes and similar causes, filed a Right-to-Know request Monday to find out what the university paid to host the conference.
AFP-NH state director Greg Moore said that the issue is particularly important to the ongoing state budget process, during which the university system has requested millions cut in 2011 be restored.
“The top focus of the University System should be on getting costs down to lower the price of tuition for New Hampshire students without asking the state’s hard working families to pay higher taxes,” said Moore in a statement Monday. “Paying millions of dollars for professors not to teach or bringing prostitutes in from California certainly seems inconsistent with the idea of maximizing the value of our higher education funding.”
The organization’s Right-to-Know request sought documentation of all costs for travel, lodging, and speaking fees for conference guests, any janitorial and site fees associated with the event, and any contracts used when bringing a sex worker or advocate to UNH.
Mantz released an initial statement Tuesday, criticizing AFP-NH for filing the request.
“It’s unfortunate that the former chief of staff to former Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien and AFP are going to such lengths to paint UNH in a negative light in an attempt to manipulate the debate over the cost of higher education on middle class families in the state,” the statement read. “To issue a press release in advance of the RTK request only underscores their motive and efforts.”
But Moore said that in a time when state budgets are tight, the public should know how the university is spending its money.
“Last week, the University System came before the Senate Finance committee and said they needed an additional $12 million in taxpayer subsidies,” he said. “At the same time, they indicated that the system had gone to great lengths to reduce all unnecessary expenditures. That’s why we think it’s critical to find out just how much money UNH spent on this conference, so that state policymakers can decide if there is more fat to trim from the System budget that can save taxpayers from any additional burden.”
Mantz said the only state money used was that “wasted as a result of university employees being diverted from their work to respond to a politically motivated Right to Know request.”
New Hampshire is last in the country for state funding of higher education, and the Legislature’s $50 million spending reduction for the university system in 2011 was considered one of the largest in the nation’s history. It halved the amount of state aid to the university system and forced administrators to cut hundreds of positions across the state’s four public schools in order to avoid even more substantial tuition increases.
The state budget proposed by the House of Representatives would restore some of that money over the next two years, but fall about $12 million short from a full restoration.