COLUMBUS – Student trustees in all Ohio public universities would have greater influence on board decisions if a bill related to board of trustees participation reform is passed.
Under current law, each four-year state university is governed by a board of trustees, which usually consists of 11 members.
Members of the board of trustees are responsible for oversight of academic programs, budgets and general administration, and employment of university staff.
Each board includes two students, who are appointed by the governor with Senate approval, but they do not have voting power and are not entitled to attend executive sessions.
Currently, only student trustees of Ohio State University are able to vote.
The bill, introduced last May, would provide 13 public universities the option of allowing their student trustees to participate in board decisions and executive sessions, which include the ability to vote on issues such as university budgets.
Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said the goal of the bill is to make student trustees full members of a university’s board of trustees.
A previous version of the bill would have automatically granted student trustees both voting rights and the authority to attend public sessions, but Antani said the bill was changed as a compromise to gain support from university officials.
If the bill becomes law, the board of trustees of each public university in Ohio would have to adopt a resolution to grant or not to grant voting power to their student members. Antani said the voting status can be changed at a later time.
“If universities aren’t in favor of the bill or at least neutral, some of my colleagues will not vote for it," Antani said "So, this is a compromise in order to get the bill passed.”
The Inter-University Council of Ohio supports the latest version of the bill, said Mike Suver, a spokesman for the organization.
Suver added that the implementation of the bill would create new issues for student trustees to consider, such as conflict of interest.
“If a conflict does arise, the student trustee, just like any other member of the Board, will have the responsibility to seek recusal from the vote creating the conflict,” Suver said in his written testimony.
The bill also prohibits a student from being disqualified as a voting student trustee if the student receives financial aid or is employed by the university.
Kamree Maull, a student trustee at the University of Cincinnati, said granting student trustees voting power would bring authority to the role and strengthen the input that students bring to board discussions.
“I think the student should not only have the opportunity to express their opinion, but also be in the decision-making space to pass or deny anything that is going to directly or indirectly affect their student experience,” Maull said.
Antani agrees with Maull. Antani said college affordability is one of the biggest issues students and families face, hence student trustee involvement in board decisions is critically important if universities and the state are looking to make higher education more affordable.
Although Antani acknowledged that members of the board of trustees rarely have divided votes during public sessions, he said granting voting power to student trustees gives would not go to waste.
“Most work at board of trustees are done during conference calls, during executive sessions before the meeting,” Antani said. “Because board of trustees want all votes to be unanimous, they (student trustees) could use their vote as leverage to get different concessions on different issues.”
The bill, also known as HB 183, received its third hearing on Tuesday.
Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLim93.