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Opinion: Student trustee voting rights not in school’s best interest

6 min read

Of the dozens of protests that have rocked Ohio University this past year, all have one thing in common: protesters claim that the problems are solvable if only students had Board of Trustee voting rights. OU is one of hundreds of American institutions that do not grant its student trustees the right to vote alongside regular board members. In fact, Ohio is one of seven states with student trustees who have no voting power. While current students have expressed their dissatisfaction with students’ inability to vote, their discontent raises valid and ethical questions. Should students really have trustee voting rights?

It seems like an obvious answer, and many students will be quick to respond, “yes, we pay for this school, we should have a say in its decisions.” Currently bipartisan HB 111 addresses the issue, arguing for equal rights between public board members and student trustees. And while there are plenty of benefits to granting students these rights, there are also concrete reasons why students should not be able to vote at the board level.

Firstly, students are not qualified to vote for decisions made at the university and state level. This may feel like a slap in the face, but college kids do not know everything, and they certainly do not know what is best for an institution of higher learning. To say that a 20-year-old kid is qualified to approve a budget pertaining hundreds of millions of dollars is absolutely absurd. Currently the OU board is made up of company CEOs, Ivy-educated lawyers, public policy authors and a diversity specialist. Students just do not have the life experience or real-world knowledge to make them respectable university voters. Chances are most students don’t know what they are having for dinner tonight, and they certainly don’t know how to spend student and taxpayer dollars.

Secondly, currently enrolled students are not really paying for school. Arguing that a student pays for this institution is not necessarily valid because in very few circumstances do current undergraduates actually pay for their higher education. The university finance pool is split between donors, tuition funded by parents and tuition funded by student…loans. While students do fund a large chunk of the university, they do not do so while they are enrolled. They do so for years down the road while they are paying off debt. So you are not paying for the university to run, future you is paying for it. Future you with a job and work experience and a few more years of wisdom under your belt.

Thirdly, having students as voting members on the Board of Trustees is a major conflict of interest. According to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, conflict of interest is the number one reason they advise student trustees do not have voting rights. For students to have the ability to vote on their own tuition while enrolled is not ideal. It is ethically questionable for Congress to give itself a raise, and it is also ethically questionable for student trustees to potentially veto a tuition proposal just because they do not feel like paying that much. Additionally, involvement in other organizations and relationships with peers and professors may persuade students to vote a certain way, not with what is in the best interest of the school.

Giving student trustees voting rights puts too much pressure on individual students who are not qualified to make such high profile decisions. To appease students and to better the university as a business are two conflicting concepts, and it is unfair to expect 20-year-olds to make those decisions. Plus, they can’t even legally go out for a beer with the board after a meeting.

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