On Wednesday, Student Senate passed their first resolution of the year. Too bad they passed up the opportunity to make it a good one.
The resolution dealt with the proposed Ohio House Bill 111, that, if passed, would grant mandatory voting rights to all student trustees at public universities in the state of Ohio. As it stands, students at Ohio University have two student trustees, but they are merely asked to give their opinion and are not entitled to a vote.
There is no question that students should have a vote on the Board of Trustees. We pay 68 percent of the budget and yet have zero representation. If this were a corporation, students would be the majority shareholders and subsequently have most of the votes, so asking for two votes isn’t asking for much.
Voting rights also keep our trustees accountable so that we can ensure they are speaking for us at the table. If a student trustee does not want that responsibility, then they should not have run in the first place.
So the question becomes, why has Ohio yet to grant their student trustees voting rights when more than 30 states have already done so? HB 111 has been opposed by some members of the Inter-University Council, most notably members of the Ohio University administration. Their reasoning is that there is a “conflict of interest” because students are directly affected by issues like tuition increases. By that logic, citizens should not be allowed to vote on local tax increases because they would be directly affected.
In past years, Senate has already passed multiple resolutions in support of student trustee voting rights, but the problem with this resolution is that it asks lawmakers in Columbus to water down the language in HB 111 from “mandatory” to “permissive” voting rights for student trustees, essentially meaning it would be up to individual universities to grant their student trustees voting rights.
In practice, Student Senate resolutions by themselves are not particularly effective, but in this case the resolution sends the symbolic message that students at OU think it should be up to the administration to decide whether or not we should have a voice at the table.
Votes for student trustees should be a fundamental right, not a privilege granted by trustees. OU’s administration would not be pushing to cripple this bill if they had any intention of granting our student trustees voting rights. Based on previous comments by administrators and members of the board, it is naïve to believe the trustees will have a sudden change of heart.
I understand the logic behind this resolution, in that it may make it easier for the bill to pass if the language is weakened, but it is better to pass nothing if students won’t end up with voting rights at the end of the day.
By changing the wording from mandatory to permissive, we are allowing a few members of the Board of Trustees and the OU administration to co-opt this entire bill for their own personal desires to keep students silent.
If the statehouse wants to play politics with this bill, that is their prerogative, but as students we should continue to affirm what it is we demand: mandatory voting rights.
Matt Farmer is a senior studying political science and education. What do you think needs to be done for students trustees to get voting rights? Email him at email@example.com.