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Voting rights for Student Trustees bill stalled in Ohio Senate

Where do things stand for trustee voting rights? 

Student trustees in Ohio are no closer to voting than they were eight months ago.

Last December, Ohio House bill 111 passed by a landslide. The bill would force state universities to either grant student trustees voting rights, or deny them. Since then, the bill has made no progress in the Senate.

“There is a hold on the bill somewhere, but we’re not sure where it’s coming from,” said Kelsey Bergfeld, the legislative assistant to Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron). Sawyer sits on the Senate education committee, which is reviewing the bill, and supports HB 111.

Bergfeld said a Senate vote wouldn’t take place until at least November, if at all.

Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, is one of the bill’s two primary sponsors. Stinziano said the bill’s momentum has flagged because “there were concerns raised” by the Republican senate majority.

“Both Rep. Mike Duffey (the bill’s co-sponsor) and I are committed to addressing these concerns, and would like to see [HB 111] done by the end of the year,” Stinziano said.

Stinziano said finding voices to champion the bill has been a struggle amid sweeping changes in 2014, but insisted that “they are out there.”

Peter Mather, secretary of Ohio University’s board of trustees, told The Post the board doesn’t have an official position on HB 111.

“The question of whether or not student trustees will have full voting rights would depend on specifics of the bill that is passed,” Mather said. He added that there may be limits to voting rights based on conflicts of interest — a measure that applies to all trustees — but said it’s too early to speculate about those limits.

Current state law dictates that OU’s board of trustees must have 11 members, including five alumni and two student members. A little more than half of U.S. states allow student trustees to vote.

Keith Wilbur is OU’s Senior student trustee. He said he was disappointed to hear the bill has stalled, but added that it isn’t earth shattering.

“I’ve always taken an open position on student voting rights,” Wilbur said, “I think it’s a good idea for higher ed. in general.”

Will Klatt, governmental affairs commissioner for OU’s student government, would like to see the bill pass. But he sees problems in its language.

“The problem with HB 111 is it allows trustees to give and take away voting rights on an annual basis,” Klatt said. “If board members have a problem with a dissenting student, they can take away that right, which seems like bad public policy.”

Klatt supports giving students full voting rights. He also believes students should be electing student trustees to represent their interests, rather than the governor.

The Inter-University Council of Ohio represents publicly funded universities in the state. The IUC “supports the bill as long as authority is granted to trustees to make the final decision,” IUC President Bruce Johnson told The Post.

In April, Johnson told The Columbus Dispatch “The Board of Trustees is not a representative body,” adding “Students would not be there to represent students. They would just happen to be students, and they would represent the people of Ohio.”


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