Feasibility of adding student to University Board of Regents draws questions

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 1:09am

A central component of one of this year’s Central Student Government platforms might require changes to either the state’s constitution or the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents’ bylaws — which has raised questions among students and other candidates for CSG executive offices on the feasibility of their plans given the legal strictures surrounding the board.

The component, from newMICH’s platform, calls for the addition of a student to the Board of Regents. LSA junior David Schafer, newMICH presidential candidate, emphasized the platform point in an interview on February 11.  

“We’re very proud that newMICH is the only party that calls for student presence on the Board of Regents, either in a voting or non-voting capacity,” Schafer said.

When they declared their candidacy in February, newMICH cited the progress of campus initiatives in colleges similar to the University, noting that some had succeeded in placing a student on their equivalent of a Board of Regents in a non-voting capacity.

LSA junior Micah Griggs, newMICH’s vice-presidential candidate, said in a February interview having a student sit on the board with a voting capacity would be ideal, but the overall goal is to amplify the students’ voice. She said a non-voting member would still play a large role in supporting issues pertinent to the well-being of students, such as the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services and Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center funding.

“It would be important to have that non-voting member on (the) Board of Regents and various committees talking about diversity, equity, curriculum,” Griggs said.

Schafer also stressed in a March interview the need for having a student on the Board of Regents, saying the CSG president’s five-minute address during meetings is not enough in terms of open communication and transparency between students and administration.

“He doesn’t have access to committee meetings, he doesn’t have access to back-door conversations within the Board of Regents, and he’s not seen as an official member of the Board of Regents,” Schafer said.

The state of Michigan’s constitution outlines the composition and roles of the regents, establishing eight members with eight-year terms “who shall be elected as provided by law.” Consequently, the creation of a student voting position would require amending the state constitution, which can be accomplished through one of three ways: the change can be placed on the ballot by a citizen-led initiative garnering a minimum of signatures, be referred to the ballot by the state legislature, or be amended through a constitutional convention.

The state constitution also provides for the current university president to sit on the board, but as an ex-officio member in a non-voting capacity.

In an interview, Regent Mike Behm raised some concerns with the logistics behind having a student member with voting capabilities on the board, noting the current eight-year term structure in particular.

“We serve for 8-year terms, so I’m always up for good ideas, but with these 8-year terms, I don’t know if a student would want to stay for the whole term or after they graduated. They would then want to have someone take their place,” Behm said.

Universities in several other states have provided for student representation on their boards through the creation of a de facto, non-voting student member — a model Schafer said he would like to see adopted at the University.

The Association of Governing Bodies reports 70.8 percent of public institutions have some sort of student presence on their governing body.

When asked about the addition of a non-voting member, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an e-mail interview that she did not see a specified provision for it in the current law.

“That doesn't mean it isn't possible, I'm just not aware of one,” she wrote.

Schafer stressed the addition of a non-voting member would not require an amendment to the state constitution as there is no explicit provision prohibiting students from the Board of Regents. He said a non-voting student member would still be an invaluable, effective resource, pointing to the University of California systems as an example, which allow for both voting and non-voting board members.

Students at UC schools may apply for the position through a standard application process.

Broekhuizen wrote that any registered voter may run for regent on the state ballot for the eight voting positions already established, including a student.

“Candidates are nominated by the state political parties,” she added.

Behm, who is also an attorney in Flint, highlighted that a student running for regent on a ballot would have to be a citizen of Michigan, which he said might prompt legal concerns.

“It sort of has a bit of an equal protection argument because part of the student body who are out-of-state students might say, ‘Wait a minute, I want to sit on the board,’ and that’s another thing that would have to be addressed,” Behm said.

However, he said he appreciates such new ideas and would be interested in learning more about the platform point, acknowledging this particular initiative isn’t something he has explored in the past.

“I do think that in the year that I’ve been on the board, that we’ve been really trying to be open to more people’s ideas,” Behm said. “I come from the school of the more people you listen to and the more ideas, the better. Hopefully, that’ll help allay some of those concerns.”

Schafer said his main goal is to begin the groundwork for future CSG administrations and pave the way for them to continue to advocate for student voice on the board.

“We believe that it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that a non-voting student is added to the Board of Regents by the end of our administration,” Schafer said. “But I think it’s also important to understand that some of this stuff set forth by each party we have to understand will not be accomplished within the life of our administration or our life at Michigan.”