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Power to the students: Increase number of student regents on board

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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On a board that wields immense power over students, you’d think we’d be accorded more than just one representative. But when it comes to the state Board of Regents, you’d be wrong.

That number needs to increase, and it needs to happen soon. Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is drafting a bill that, among other things, would increase the number of student regents from one to two. It would be a positive step, but having one student regent from each state university would give each institution an even stronger voice on important issues such as tuition.

Greta Johnson, a senior at Iowa State University and the board’s only student regent, said she supports Kaufmann’s idea of including more student regents.

“I think it would be very beneficial to add one, if not two more students,” she said. “I was placed in this role of representing 70,000 students, and it can get overwhelming trying to find information and get the student perspective.”

Johnson has been an important member of the regents, fighting against this semester’s $100 tuition surcharge. But she should not be burdened with representing tens of thousands of students on three campuses. It is unfair to her and to Iowa’s public university students.

The regents will soon decide whether to accept the UI’s plans for relocating Hancher Auditorium and the School of Music. Johnson will ask for opinions from UI officials and students, but it is apparent that having a UI student representative on the board would contribute to discussion and a more informed vote.

Regents were unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Appointing two more students would instill in students a concrete faith in the regents — a faith that is wearing thin because of years of tuition hikes. Johnson can attest to the power that she has with the board. As a student and regent, she embodies the duality that is vital to representing students’ interests.

“The other board members are very respectful,” Johnson said. “I’m personally paying the tuition, so my opinions resonate more.”

For his part, Kaufmann believes his proposal would allow students an opportunity to have a greater say in their education.

“I’m of the mindset that the people who are affected personally by a problem … passionately advocate for that issue,” he told the DI last December. “More students on the board will bring an entirely different perspective to the university, and I think it’s a perspective that is crucial in higher education.”

Kaufmann is right. The tacit year-to-year decision not to expand the student representation on the regents is troubling. Instead of increasing student membership, the Legislature has effectively locked students out of directly affecting regent decisions. In a time of limited state funding and tuition hikes, it’s imperative that each state university has a student regent. It’s difficult to adequately represent students, after all, when they make up only one-ninth of the board. Each institution has different problems and concerns that are specific to that school, and they cannot all be sorted out properly by one advocate.

We urge the Legislature to amend Kaufmann’s bill and allow students from all three regent universities to have a voice in higher education in this state.


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