Home Education Senate resolution supports ‘permissive’ student trustee voting rights

Senate resolution supports ‘permissive’ student trustee voting rights

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Ohio University Student Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday issuing its support of an Ohio General Assembly bill that would allow public universities the ability to give student trustees full voting powers on Ohio’s 13 public university Boards of Trustees.

This recent action is just one step in a complicated path that senate hopes will lead to student trustees receiving the right to vote on issues such as tuition raises and capital improvement. However, the specific language in the bill is the topic of some controversy, further complicating this divisive issue.

“At that time, we were all in favor of the language staying mandatory, which is what it currently is. That way it would force all boards of the 13 public universities to grant the right to student trustees to vote,” said Jordan Ballinger, Student Senate Governmental Affairs Commissioner. “That overall feeling has changed.”

Ballinger is referring to House Bill 111, the bill that would allow the student trustees the power to vote. The language in question refers to section 3337.01(B). As the bill was introduced, the section reads, “The student members of the board of trustees of the Ohio University shall… have voting power on the board.”

“I will be the first to say that I am all for the bill to remain mandatory so our trustees would have the right to vote, but there is no possible way this bill will pass [as] mandatory,” Ballinger said.

The change that this recent senate resolution supported was amending this language to make it permissive instead of mandatory. This would mean that, provided HB 111 passes, it would be up to the Ohio University Board of Trustees to decide whether or not their student trustees would have full voting rights.

In the last session of Ohio’s General Assembly, a similar bill passed the House but died in the Senate, a failure that Ballinger attributes to the bill not getting enough attention amidst debates over Kasich’s budget changes. That bill also featured permissive language.

“The likelihood of this bill passing as mandatory is almost zero,” Ballinger said. “There’s just too much pushback from different players at the statehouse.”

So why the change? As Ballinger explains, it’s a classic example of partisan politics and legislative gridlock in the statehouse. He believes that there is no chance the bill will pass with mandatory language. And he’s not alone. Representatives Mike Duffey, Republican, and Michael Stinziano, Democrat, the two sponsors of the bill, are advocating this amended language in hopes that the bill can win votes with Senate Republicans, the bill’s biggest opponents.

But the language change has some at Ohio University worried. At Wednesday’s Student Senate meeting, Matt Farmer, who last year ran against and lost to current President Nick Southall, spoke out against the proposed language amendment

“I don’t want to water it down,” Farmer said. “Voting rights need to be mandatory. It’s a right, it’s not a privilege. If we make it a privilege that the Board of Trustees can bestow upon us, they won’t.”

While Farmer said he understood the political reasons for the suggested language change, he said that this was not an issue that senate should be playing politics with. Despite this, Ballinger’s resolution had the support of almost all voting senators Wednesday night.

HTC Senator Allie Dyer was the only voting member of senate to vote “nay” against the resolution. She said she was trying to properly represent her constituency.

“I think if we assume that we’re not capable of doing a statewide campaign to convince people that we deserve the right to make decisions about our own education,  I think that’s assuming too little of us,” Dyer said. “I think we can do that. I think it’s better to have a statewide initiative than a campus-by-campus battle.”

Ballinger realizes that if HB 111 passes with the amended language, which he hopes will happen before election season heats up in the spring, the fight will be brought to Athens. In his eyes, regardless of what the Board decides in the 90 days following the bill’s passage, it’s a win-win.

“It is extremely bad PR for the Board of Trustees to announce they are not granting us the right to vote. Because they have to, within 90 days,” Ballinger said. “It passes permissive; the Board of Trustees comes out and announces we do not grant students the right to vote. That doesn’t sound very good. I’m pretty sure there would be a huge outrage by the entire student population.”

Ballinger plans to bring Duffey and Stinziano to Athens for rallies and events to get students excited and informed about what HB 111 means to them and their university. He hopes to put pressure on the Board of Trustees to make the decision in favor of the student trustees.

He’s placing his bets that gathering together student organizations on campus will be easier than leading a statewide push for mandatory rights. He specifically cited the Ohio University Student Union, an organization that has traditionally opposed Student Senate, as a powerful ally for rallying students for a common cause with marches and rallies.

Current student trustee Keith Wilbur doesn’t think that pressuring the board with marches and rallies is the best decision. He feels that rioting on college green is too premature to be discussed at this point.

“My personal opinion on the issue is that we need to get the legislation through, that creates accountability for the board itself,” Wilbur said. “It’s not that I don’t support any type of rally for student trustee voting rights, it’s that I don’t support what that rally is for. How would a rally move that legislation forward?”

That said, Wilbur is the first student trustee to formally support student trustee voting rights, and his support is invaluable in Student Senate’s fight to get student trustees the right to vote. Ballinger is convinced that the university has the ability to see this bill through.

“If you didn’t know, our university has been granted the privilege to lead the charge on House Bill 111, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Ballinger said.

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