As adults, university and college students should have the right to shape decisions that directly affect them. It’s also in the state’s best interest to have fully empowered student trustees with an on-the-ground understanding of the problems of higher education.
Ohio’s 14 public four-year colleges and universities have two students each on their boards of trustees. It’s been that way for nearly 30 years. But student trustees don’t have full voting rights; at best, some can vote at the subcommittee level.
Student trustees are appointed by Ohio’s governor, who picks from candidates nominated by student organizations and approved by university boards. Without voting power, however, they can do little but advise their colleagues.
Student trustees can’t even attend executive sessions. Nor are they counted in forming a quorum. They have no real power. And without the power to make decisions, students have no real voice.
A bill before the Ohio House would change that, giving student trustees equal voting rights on their boards of trustees. The measure would put Ohio in line with most other states, its sponsors say: Of the 39 states that have student trustees, 32 allow at least one student trustee to vote.
The bill would not give undue power to student trustees, who would remain a minority on their boards. University boards in Ohio include from nine to 15 nonstudent trustees.
Like other board members, students couldn’t vote on issues that pose a conflict of interest, such as tuition rates. Still, they should have a direct say on matters such as privatizing parking services, compensation for a university president, and campus residency requirements for freshmen and sophomores.
University policies should reflect the views and needs of students, who live with the consequences of these decisions. As college educations become more important and expensive, students deserve a full voice on university and college boards. Ohio needs them to have it too, to help institutions of higher learning make tough decisions that lie ahead.
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