Proposal to mandate second student on U board faces opposition

The Legislature requires that one regent is a student when selected.

Kevin Burbach

A bill introduced last week in the state Legislature would require two students sit on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.

The bill, which faced stiff opposition Wednesday in the Senate, was introduced last week in both chambers. It would change the current law stating one of the 12 regents must be a student.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the chief author of the Senate bill, attempted to amend the Senate’s higher education omnibus bill Wednesday to include the legislation, but it failed.

“People said good things, but they weren’t quite ready to make a decision,” she said.

The Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition brought the idea to her, and she thought it was a good idea, she said.

“There are already two regents who were students when they were appointed, and it’s proven that it works,” she said.

Maureen Ramirez was appointed in 2007 to fulfill the role of the required student regent while completing her master’s degrees at the University of Minnesota’s Duluth campus, and the Legislature appointed Venora Hung, a University Law School student at the time, in 2007. Neither regent is a student currently.

Board Chairwoman Linda Cohen was less enthusiastic about the bill.

“We have two regents who were elected when they were students. That already can happen,” she said. “I’m not sure I see huge advantages to mandating that it has to happen.”

Cohen said she plans to meet with Minnesota Student Association President Lizzy Shay about the issue Thursday.

University President Eric Kaler said, like Cohen, that the bill might not be necessary.

“I think having a diverse set of viewpoints on the board is very important so the current student seat provides that,” Kaler said. “There are also student representatives to the Board of Regents that sit on each of the committees, and they’re a strong voice for student concerns in the board. There’s good student representation right now.”

Seven students — four from the Twin Cities campus and one from each satellite campus — are selected for one-year terms as student representatives to the board. They, however, do not have a vote on the board.

Chris Tastad, director of the MSLC, said the bill was necessary to ensure student representation on the board.

“We’re ultimately looking to strengthen that voice and make sure that students are being heard in the affairs of the University,” he said.

They came to the current proposal after researching many different university systems, he said, including the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ Board of Trustees. That board is made up of 15 members, three of whom are students when selected.

Both Tastad and Pappas said besides accurate student representation, having another regent in the same age range would help the student regents get comfortable with their responsibilities on the board.

Hung declined to comment, and Ramirez couldn’t be reached.

Currently the board is made up of 12 regents chosen by the state Legislature. Eight of the regents are from one of each eight congressional districts in Minnesota, and four are at-large regents — meaning they represent the entire state.

As the student regent, Ramirez is an at-large regent, and Hung is the regent for the Fifth Congressional District.

The bill would be flexible in that one student regent would remain an at-large regent, and the other could be either, Pappas said. The number of regents would not change under the bill, she said.

Some legislators raised questions at the committee meeting Wednesday about those appointed to the board when they’re students and have since graduated. Regents serve six-year terms, and Pappas said it’s not likely student regents would be students for the entire term.

The six-year term requirement is part of the University charter, and the Legislature couldn’t modify its terms, Pappas said. But she doesn’t want to change the term limits for student regents.

Even if students graduate, she said it was still very important they remain regents because of their young age in contrast to the rest of the board. 

She added that “the longer you’re on the Board of Regents, the more expertise you gain and the better regent you become.”

Although the bill was defeated in committee, Pappas said she could still introduce a floor amendment but was uncertain if she would.

The vote was “a pretty resounding no,” she said of the committee meeting Wednesday.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, is the chief author in the House, but could not be reached for comment. Pappas said Rukavina could still introduce the bill Thursday when the House hears the higher education omnibus bill, but she was uncertain if he would.

-Dina Elrashidy contributed to this report.