Sixteen years ago, Michigan voters rejected the chance to hold a constitutional convention. On Nov. 2, 2010, the outcome was the same. Many may have voted against the measure because of the high expenses involved and the ominous threat of another blow to the University’s funding. And these reasons may hold some validity. But I think that the University of Michigan, other state universities and community colleges missed an opportunity to come together and have students’ voices be heard.
This year, I ran for the University’s Board of Regents with the ambition of collecting 30,000 signatures in three weeks. While a seemingly impossible goal, I tried my best and successfully spread awareness for the need to have a student’s voice on the Board of Regents. While the goal was never reached, the positive feedback was encouraging. Someone told me that “having no student on the board would be like Meijer having no customer service. How would Meijer know if it was doing everything right?” This person brought up a good point. How can the Board of Regents truly know whether or not their decisions are beneficial for students?
I’m not suggesting a student takeover of the Board of Regents, three spots for students or the elimination of this governing body, but rather one voting student regent. Just one. Not just for the University, but for every public university in Michigan. Imagine the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University and many other outstanding educational institutions in Michigan having one student on their governing board. While these officials are either elected or appointed by the governor, the constitutional convention was our — the thousands of college students across Michigan — missed opportunity.
The most salient reason for a student board member is the unique and refreshing perspective it brings to many discussions. Currently, inadequate — but appreciated — efforts are made to incorporate students’ voices at board meetings. There may be time for public comment and sending a letter, but students must be engaged in meaningful dialogue.
A student regent could give insights on issues that are on the minds of the people the board serves. This student would see first-hand the impact of a tuition increase or implementation of a new policy and could submit ideas that may not normally be discussed. The feedback given during participation in a board discussion would improve both the governance of the university and the institution holistically.
This would also give student representatives priceless leadership experience, something I wish could be granted to every student to better prepare a new generation of leaders. Student representatives would learn communication skills and gain valuable leadership experience.
Student representatives would close a void between the students and administration. Welcoming a student on the board would increase awareness about campus issues and hopefully start new dialogue among students. Certainly, these meetings are within public domain, but to the students, there is such a disconnect that the meeting might as well be held in the dark. Students deserve a meaningful engagement with their university’s governing body.
The University of California has a student regent. The University of Texas has a non-voting student regent. Michigan should be the first state in which each university and community college has a student regent. Proposal 1 would have been our key to unlocking this opportunity. With the exploration of our out-dated constitution, students across the state could rally, send letters and petition for an amendment to add student representation to elected university boards. This isn’t possible now, but students must continue to look forward.
Now is the time to start something that may be iconoclastic, coming together as college campuses to fight for representation. Students should create a ballot proposal to be voted on by Michigan citizens that amends the state constitution to read: “Every state-funded university and community college will have one voting student representative.” While the process to select that student may bring about new debate, the fundamental issue must be resolute. The students’ voice must be heard.
Let’s call our newly elected representatives and leaders, petition at every university and community college and spread the word. Let’s gather the necessary support and signatures to place a proposition in an upcoming election to amend the constitution for a change that can benefit students and the state schools.
Simon Boehme is an LSA freshman.