Student reps gain understanding

Ahnalese Rushmann

Adam Engelman has heard the complaints of fellow students before, colleagues frustrated by soaring tuition costs.

“A lot of people often place blame on the administration for tuition going up, which is logical,” the political science senior from Pennsylvania said. “But at the same time, they have to realize there are other entities involved, like the state government, like the federal government.”

On a campus that spans two cities, with more than 50,000 students, it can be hard – perhaps impossible – to get every student’s input on an issue heard. At least, heard by the people that matter.

In most cases, those people are the University’s governing body, the Board of Regents.

Engelman, along with Nathan Olson, Mark Torma and Catherine Wang, serve as student representatives to the Board of Regents.

Engelman, the vice chair, and Olson and Wang, are all seniors representing the Twin Cities campus, while Torma serves on behalf of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. Students from the Crookston, Duluth and Morris campuses round out the seven-member group.

Wang’s first regents meeting will be in February, as she takes over for Benjamin McKibben, who’s doing a visiting semester at American University in Washington D.C.

Olson said he’s well aware of the matters that satisfy and disgruntle the student body.

“Students can always be made more of a priority,” he said. “But this administration really does try and include students as much as possible.”

According to regents policy, the one year role of a student representative is not a voting position, rather one “to function as an effective advocate for the widest range of student concerns,” as well as attend monthly regents and committee meetings.

There’s a separate voting regents spot for a person who’s a student at the time of election.

Torma said he’s okay with the nonvoting function and realizes he’s only in the University student role for a limited amount of time.

“People would argue that all you are here is for a year,” the second-year law student and Ohio native said. “Why should we give you this power over something that you’re not going to be a part of soon?”

But even without the license to yea or nay, the representatives say they’re sometimes forced to remain neutral and restrain personal feelings on issues, such as the University’s Strategic Positioning plan.

Olson and Engelman, who ran for Minnesota Student Association president and vice president together last year, recalled such instances.

“To be honest, I had some problems with the initial plan, as far as closing (General College),” Engelman said. “Ultimately, my position is not just to represent my own individual views.”

Olson found his beliefs opposed his colleague’s but echoed the importance of neutrality.

“I have to represent the student body,” he said. “I can’t let my own personal convictions interfere with that.”

Being a representative also has its perks, like getting to work with top-ranking University officials, such as President Bob Bruininks.

Engelman lauded Bruininks’ efforts in raising more scholarship money for the University to ensure that low-income students have access.

And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt the University’s No. 1 in command.

Wang, a Toronto-based marketing student, said she attended a Gopher football game with the president her sophomore year as a representative of the Asian-American Student Union, and said students might be surprised by how “down to earth” and funny he is.

And working with the board isn’t too bad, either. The representatives said talking to regents, who range from a former Minnesota Senate majority leader to a law student to a Cargill Inc. executive, is one of the highlights of the job.

The representatives also praised Chairwoman Patricia Simmons’ active leadership and commitment to the University.

Simmons, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic who joined the regents in 2003, said representatives have always played an active role, not only bringing student concerns into the board room, but transmitting regents activity back to students.

“They’re sent here by their peer group, their constituency,” she said. “They have a responsibility to share with them what’s going on in government at the University.”

Simmons added that as campus residents, the representatives have a unique perspective on University issues.

“They bring more than just statistics,” she said. “They bring that personal knowledge and feeling and story that I think are helpful to us.”

Olson encouraged students to engage themselves in student government.

“I think that students feel that they can’t really have a say just because the regents are so high up in the hierarchical administration,” he said. “It’s actually easier for students to get involved at a lower level.”

Engelman said it’s unfortunate more students aren’t aware of the University’s decision-making process and might understand more if they attended a meeting.

“I would say 99 percent of students don’t know what’s going on (at regents meetings),” he said. “To be honest, I really didn’t know much before this.”