Student trustees push for voting rights

Rachel Abbey

Nick Furtwengler, student trustee for the University of Cincinnati, wants to get the vote for student trustees. Currently, Ohio law appoints student trustees to university boards as non-voting members.

“In this position, you’ve been appointed by the governor,” he said. “You should be able to make decisions and deal with the consequences.”

Student trustees across Ohio met at The University of Akron this weekend for their annual conference. Kent State’s student trustees, Erin Kleman and Kimberly Thompson were both in attendance Friday, and Thompson attended Saturday. The trustees use the event as a chance to discuss issues related to education in Ohio and to get to know one another.

One of their discussions this weekend addressed taking a proposal to the statehouse to try to get voting rights. Furtwengler, who led the conversation, drew up a tentative proposal. He said of the two trustees, who have alternating terms, the one with more seniority would have voting rights. This would give that trustee a year to become used to the issues.

“With that privilege comes a lot of responsibility and consequence,” said Liz Kovac, student trustee at Akron.

She said students would have to balance being students and being trustees. For example, raising tuition could be best for the university, but a student trustee would have to abstain from voting because they would be affected by the result.

Thompson said she doesn’t have a very strong opinion either way, but she will support the trustees in whatever they decide to pursue.

“If we’re going to get voting rights, I’m glad that it’s only for seniors,” she said. “I would have felt so overwhelmed last year.”

All of the trustees agreed that if they were to have voting rights, they would need to be allowed to sit in on executive sessions, which are board meetings not open to the public.

The trustee from Bowling Green, Raquel Colon, said she was frustrated they were not allowed in executive sessions. Bowling Green is instating a mandatory health insurance next year, on which the student trustees were allowed to offer input.

However, the controversial abortion coverage was changed in an executive session. Because it affected the entire campus, Colon feels as if she should have had a say in it.

The trustees agreed that executive session rights have a big impact on how the other board members view them.

“Having a say in executive sessions weighs more than if I had a vote,” Kovac said.

About half of the universities already allow their student trustees to sit in on executive sessions. Kent State’s are allowed if the session doesn’t pertain to personnel issues, such as contract negotiations.

Thompson said the trustees at Kent State are very approachable and listen to the student trustees’ ideas, a problem some of the other students mentioned facing.

“I would just feel like they were hiding things from me, or that they didn’t trust me. I would feel like I couldn’t accurately represent students or convey issues to students,” if she was not allowed in executive sessions, Thompson said.

Thompson said she wants to approach the board with an idea she got at the conference. Other universities’ boards have their student government give reports at each meeting to keep the board in touch with student issues and give the student body a larger voice.

She said she wants to give the Undergraduate Student Senate and the Graduate Student Senate about five minutes each to report to the board.

“It will become apparent quickly what is important to students,” she said.

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected]