ASUM-backed initiative could give students a seat on the Board of Curators

If it passes through the petition process, the initiative will be on the 2014 ballot.
Laura Davis / Graphic Designer

A ballot initiative in the works would give voting rights to a student representative on every Missouri higher education institution’s board of curators.

That initiative has been proposed almost every year since 1975 and was a failed effort each year, said Ben Levin, president of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri. Levin hopes to change that in next year’s election.

“We are optimistic that this is something we can do and something that Missourians will support,” Levin said. “It’s important that students, the people who live here, people who go here, people who have more invested in the university than anyone else, be represented on the governing board of their school.”

For the moment, the initiative sits on the shelf of Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, whose office opened up the proposal to public comment last week. After a review period that lasts into next week, the office will draft a summary to be used on petitions. If enough petition signatures are collected, the initiative will go on to appear on the 2014 ballot.

Currently, the student representative attends board meetings and provides insight from a students perspective. Most of the UM System Board of Curators’ decisions revolve around policies regarding tuition, new student programs and other important decisions of that nature, ASUM assistant legislative director Kaitlin Steen said.

“Giving the student representative a vote would give the student's input more weight and solidify the student's voice on the board,” Steen said.

Having a student as a voting curator could bridge the gap between the UM System Board of Curators and students, who may have not felt that their voices were being adequately heard prior, Levin said.

“It’s hard to know what direct effects there would be, but we believe that policies coming from the Board of Curators will better reflect the needs of students,” Levin said.

Putting a student on the Board of Curators has been on ASUM’s legislative platform since 1999, though Levin said in recent years, there was never enough momentum for that to pass. Now, ASUM looks to the 33 states that have student seats on their universities’ governing boards for a legislative model, Levin said.

At the start of the legislative session, legislative interns will attempt to get members of both the Missouri House and Senate to sponsor legislation that would guarantee a vote for the student representative, Steen said.

“ASUM is confident that every year we are gaining more support for the issue,” Steen said. “The issue has bipartisan support, and we will continue to work for the UM System students and their desire to give the student representative a vote.”

UM System spokesman John Fougere declined to comment on ASUM and other student organizations’ push for a student curator seat, though the board’s opposition was made clear in 2008 when the change was last proposed.

That year, the curators opposed the effort 7-1 before it passed in the Statehouse. But the bill was later vetoed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, who in his veto letter said that the student curator would represent a university interest group, something that no other curator is allowed to do. Blunt also cited concerns about finding eligible candidates, as a student curator’s term would be transitional and require the curator to graduate in January.

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, went on to lose his re-election bid later that year. Since 2008, the only talk of a student curator has come from State Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, who has yet to get legislation past the House’s Higher Education Committee.

This initiative’s drafter, St. Louis attorney Brad Ketcher, submitted the upcoming petition to Kander’s office two weeks ago. It’s high time that students be given a voice on university decisions, especially the setting of tuition, Ketcher said.

“Many people feel it’s time for that reform to occur,” Ketcher said. “Students are paying more and more of the university’s bills through their tuition, and they ought to have a say about tuition and other important issues at the university.”

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