ASUM continues lobbying legislators for student curator vote

Since 2002, 27 bills have tried and failed to place a voting student member on the Board of Curators.
Ben Kothe / Graphic Designer

Student leaders and Missouri lawmakers are in talks to introduce a new bill that would place a voting student member in university leadership this legislative session.

Missouri Students Association President Payton Head said in an email he and a student advocate met with Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, on Jan. 22 to discuss student-focused legislative goals. One of those goals is to give students a vote on the UM System Board of Curators, something Head campaigned for during the 2014 MSA presidential election.

The Board of Curators, which governs the four UM System campuses, has included a non-voting student representative since 1984. The student representative was admitted to closed-door board meetings for the first time in 1999.

The Associated Students of the University of Missouri, a system-wide, student-led political education and legislative advocacy organization, has been advocating for the student vote for over a decade. Since 2002, the 27 bills to give students a vote on the board have fallen short. One bill passed both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly in 2008, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt.

ASUM President Trey Sprick said he is optimistic about successfully passing a student vote bill this year, and that the specifics of an upcoming bill will be announced later this semester.

Kendrick declined to take a stance on the voting issue at this time, but said he would be interested in further discussing the idea with students.

Pushing for a new bill

Sprick said he believes a voting student curator would better represent students’ preferences in major university decisions.

“Right now, our board is made up of individuals who are a bit farther removed from day-to-day life at the universities,” he said. “The goal of the legislation that we’d like to see passed is to make sure that the Board of Curators is grounding their decisions in understanding of students’ experiences in the university system.”

ASUM has advocated for a voting student curator for years. Bills trying to get a student vote have been sponsored nearly every year since 2002, when then-Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, sponsored a bill that would give the student member voting rights. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate.

“The main reason ASUM advocates for this is that as an organization, ASUM feels as though those who provide over half of the revenue to this university and university system should have some say in the business decisions made by the system,” Sprick said.

Sprick said the eight ASUM interns, six of whom are MU students this year, play the most important role in advocating for the student vote.

Sprick said the interns are taking a more active role in Jefferson City this year than they have in years past, with an emphasis on testifying in committee hearings as a way to convey messages to a broader group of elected officials. He said they work full-time in Jefferson City every Tuesday and Thursday, meet with legislators, testify at hearings and provide information to elected officials.

“They register as lobbyists in the state of Missouri, and they’re the ones that truly push the platform,” he said. “We’ve had sponsors for this bill and this bill (was) introduced every year since we started pushing for it, and that really comes down to those interns.”

The Missouri General Assembly is in session from early January to late May each year. Sprick said the ASUM interns start each legislative session focusing on setting up meetings with legislators to talk about their platform and to see who is willing to sponsor or co-sponsor the bills that fall in line with that platform.

“Legislation is only really introduced through the first three months of session or so,” Sprick said. “Basically, by the end of March we know what is feasible to push for in the final debates. After that, it’s all about maintaining relationships with legislators and answering any questions they have.”

Current student representative

Tracy Mulderig, a doctoral student at UM-St. Louis, has represented the 77,283 UM System students since March 2014. She said her current responsibilities include attending all board meetings, including open and closed sessions, during which the board discusses and votes on initiatives such as tuition fee increases and new degree programs. She also attends other formal events on behalf of the UM System.

Mulderig said it would be a conflict of interest if she advocated for or against a student vote on the board.

“I want my fellow students to know that board members listen to me and take my feedback to heart, which makes a huge difference,” she said. “My priority is to do the best that I can at this job in order to show that students are mature and responsible enough for voting privileges when ASUM finally does succeed with this initiative.”

Mulderig is a member of the Finance Committee and the Academic, Student and External Affairs Committee, according to the curators’ website.

Mulderig said she keeps in contact with student government leaders on the four UM System campuses and uses social media to communicate with students.

“One of the interesting things about this position is that you have to recognize that there are shared challenges, but there are also unique problems and issues for each campus,” she said. “I work more closely with board members and system leadership, but I also remain in contact with the chancellors and student leaders.”

Mulderig said her position is important because she communicates between board members and university students.

“I am one of the very few students that the board members interact with on an ongoing basis,” Mulderig said. “The curators truly care about students and student issues. My position is critically important because over time, they trust the student representative as their source of information on student issues.”

The selection of the student representative rotates across the four UM System campuses. After Mulderig’s term ends Jan. 1, 2016, an MU student will take her place.

UM System spokesman John Fougere said after applications are submitted to the student government on campus, they are reviewed by the chancellor and then forwarded to the Missouri governor, who interviews the top three candidates and makes the appointment.

“The Curators rely on the student representative to bring to the table the viewpoint of the students to aid them in understanding recommendations made or issues at hand,” he said.

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