Bill urges appointment of student as voting member on Board of Curators

Similar legislation has been proposed each year since 2002.

Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

In the long-debated issue of giving a vote to the UM system Board of Curators' student representative, some Missouri legislators are trying a more passive approach.

Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, sponsored legislation that would essentially urge the governor to appoint a student as one of the regular voting members on the Board of Curators. The board is made up of nine voting members who each represent one of Missouri's congressional districts, and there is a non-voting student representative who serves a two-year term.

Students and legislators have tried for years to give the student representative a vote on the board, most notably in 2008, when a related bill made it through the House and Senate but was then vetoed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt.

Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, is sponsoring nearly identical legislation that would give a vote to the student representative if Missouri lost a congressional district following the 2010 Census.

But Schupp's bill is quite different from Pratt's and past legislation.

"It's not a better version, but it's maybe a more practical version," said Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, who co-sponsored the bill.

The Board of Curators openly opposes the notion of a voting student curator. The board is mostly concerned it would turn the board into a stakeholder board and says the student representative's shorter two-year term doesn't allow enough time to learn the issues. But the student representatives have typically wanted a vote.

"It is a lot of learning, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with the issues," student representative Laura Confer said in an interview following a board meeting Jan. 29. "But I still serve an important role. (The curators) haven't been students for a long time, and I'm going through school right now."

The legislation as written doesn't address a couple of logistical issues. It doesn't state whether a student, if appointed, would serve a six-year term like the rest of the curators, and it doesn't say whether there would still be a non-voting student representative if a student were appointed as one of the nine voting members.

Gov. Jay Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said this issue hasn't been "front and center" for the governor and couldn't say whether Nixon would consider appointing a student to one of the nine positions. Still said she wasn't sure whether the governor would but this legislation is at least a step in the right direction.

"The power of suggestion in law can help the governor recognize that this could be a possibility," she said. "I was at the university at the time when we began having students serving on the board. I've seen very directly the positive impact they can have."

If the governor appointed a student as a voting member, the curators might still be concerned that a voting member was also a stakeholder in the university.

"The student is still a consumer of services and could be in a strange position making decisions that could affect their professor's salary or benefit package," board Chairwoman Judith Haggard said in an e-mail. "We believe that life experience and longevity better prepares curators to deal with the problems and serious decisions that we are faced with on a routine basis."

Despite the curators' opposition to a voting student member, legislators and students are working to find a new way to achieve that goal. Some form of voting student curator legislation has been proposed every year since 2002.

"We should go after this issue every year," Confer said. "This is our time to strike. We still have a chance to get the student a vote."

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