Once again, the Ohio House of Representatives is discussing giving student trustees in public universities across Ohio the right to vote in their respective boards through House Bill 111. This is by no means a new battle; its roots can be found back in the early 1970s, when student trustees were still a vague possibility floating around in the heads of some ambitious representatives. However, it isn’t the repetition that is the striking problem of House Bill 111. Instead, it is the provisions attached to this most recent iteration.
The bills wording grants permissive, not mandatory, voting rights. In other words, voting rights would be granted to student trustees at the discretion of each university’s board of trustees.
Admittedly, as previous attempts have proven, a bill that required mandatory voting rights would likely die in committee and certainly not make it through the full House or Senate. This does not change the fact that the bill, as it stands, has devolved from a reasonable progression of the student trustee position to a halfhearted attempt to please both sides without committing to tangible change.
Yes the passing of this bill is far preferable to leaving student trustees with sharply limited voting rights, but it seems entirely illogical to not commit to full voting rights for a position that is supposed to speak for the student body, which, by the way, is the reason universities can even function.
Though student trustees do have a vote in committee and full trustees often take their counsel earnestly, the current system is far too unreliable. A bundle of steadfast trustees that are vehemently opposed to young, unproven student trustees having pull could throw a cog into the system, leaving the students with an extremely limited voice in board actions. This bill is susceptible to the same problem by allowing for voting rights but not fully assuring them. It makes it entirely too possible for a few anti-progressive administrators to limit a sensible addition to the student trustee’s role.
Obviously, most of the opponents of these voting rights wield more relevant and reasonable arguments than a few non-progressive administrators. For example, some legislators fear that student trustees will act in their own interest in matters that affect them directly, and this concern does not fall on deaf ears. Regardless, it is a mostly baseless claim.
As was displayed this year, when YSU’s student trustee appointment took six months, the candidates are thoroughly vetted. The same fear is equally relevant, though less apparent, for any trustee that has a connection, tenuous though it may be, to the campus, its staff, its faculty or its students. A bias, intended or unintended, is consistently a possibility if not an inevitability — what matters is the trustee’s ability to work through any bias. This is precisely why candidates are vetted on an individual basis.
It is a possibility that all 13 universities will, with open arms, allot full voting rights to their student trustees. This does not mitigate the injustice in allowing them to decide to begin with, however. There is also the observable tendency of those in power to ignore or put off enacting changes that significantly shifts the landscape of their domain, unless they receive pressure from high-ups or the masses. Students should not have to concern themselves with the machinations of administrators to get appropriate representation.
In all likelihood, if this legislation passes, voting rights will remain permissive. In this case, the best thing the community and students can do is show some gumption and demand that student trustees are allowed voting rights, so that they, after 30 years, can sufficiently represent the student body.