Regents deny seat to student representative

Kristin Gustafson

What appeared to be a minor house-cleaning move by the Board of Regents has knocked students out of a place of prominence in monthly regent meetings.
Starting with the Sept. 10 regents meeting, the students’ representative lost her opportunity to sit with all 12 regents on a monthly basis, removing student visibility in major University policy decisions.
In the name of efficiency, the board dissolved its committee of the whole in February. Regents said the committee, an intermediary step between individual regent committees and the formal Board of Regents meeting, duplicated the formal meeting.
However, regents failed to realize that this downsizing eliminated the student representative’s only chance to sit with the entire board prior to the Regents’ determination of University issues, policy and direction.
“We unfortunately didn’t think through, as a board, the role of student representative,” said Patricia Spence, board chairwoman.
After February’s decision, the student representative sat at the table during the formal Board of Regents meeting with the 12-member governing body and University President Mark Yudof.
But this role was short lived.
At their retreat in August, regents realized that the student representative could not sit at the table during the formal meeting, because this was a violation of the regents’ legal obligation and role.
Although regents are elected by the state Legislature — one from each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts and four from the state at large — student representatives are elected by the student body.
Yudof, who serves as the ex-officio president of the board, is allowed to sit at the table, but faculty, students, administrators and others are prohibited.
Prior to September’s regent meeting, Spence; Heidi Frederickson, student representative chairwoman and a junior in political science at the Morris campus; and Andrea Turner, the board’s executive director; met to discuss the student role.
They decided Frederickson would sit with vice presidents in the front row instead of at the regent table, Spence said.
The period between February and August, when students sat with the regents during the formal meetings, were great for student visibility, Frederickson said.
“I was hesitant when I heard about it,” she said of the change in student representation. “It’ll look like students aren’t involved. But that is not the case at all.”
Frederickson will prepare a student-perspective statement on one policy issue per meeting and can ask the regent chairwoman for more opportunities to address the board.
“I think (students will) be equally or better represented,” Spence said.
In the past, student representatives clustered in the back of the board room during the formal regents’ meetings, Spence said. Now the representative will have a front-row reserved seat with her name on it.
Additionally, two student representatives will continue to meet with regents for each public committee meeting. All seven student representatives meet with each other over breakfast to address student concerns on a monthly basis.
Connecting with students is a regent priority, Spence said.
“I think we can do a better job,” she added.
New strategies for improving regent-student interaction include individual regents attending the students’ breakfast meeting and visiting dormitories.
Regent Jessica Phillips, a full member of the board who was elected by the Legislature as student regent — requiring her to be a University student at the time of election — said students did not lose power because of regent reorganization.
“A lot of work is done in the committee,” Phillips said. Students continue to have a voice at committee meetings where issues reach their most basic level.
“Great discussion and feedback can come from students,” she said.
Phillips, who also has served as a student representative before being elected as a full regent, said she offers the board a perspective of being a recent student.
“The difference, obviously, is I have the power of a vote,” she said.
Frederickson, the student representative, does not.
“I also have to be careful not to be too parochial,” Phillips noted. As a regent, she said she needs to consider the needs of the University and the needs of the state instead of only student interests. “I’m definitely a student voice while not representing student interests.”

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.