Student representation falters at UW

A student could not join the UW Board of Regents because he signed a petition against Gov. Scott Walker.

Like many other higher education institutions, the University of Minnesota and its student body struggle to make students’ voices heard by the administration,  the Legislature and the state as a whole. But for the most part, our student representatives are chosen in a democratic fashion, and we are fortunate not to have our leadership dictated by the hand of Gov. Mark Dayton or overt political influences.

Last month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker nominated a University of Wisconsin-Platteville student for an appointment to the University of Wisconsin system’s Board of Regents.

Two days after that student, Josh Inglett, received one of two student nominations to the UW Board of Regents, Walker officially rescinded it. This followed Inglett’s confirmation of a claim that he had signed the recall petition to remove Walker from office as a freshman in 2012. From the timeline of events surrounding Inglett’s nomination, it appears that Walker determined Inglett was not a viable candidate for the board largely because of perceived political differences.

When asked about the rescindment and his decision to sign the recall petition, Inglett said in an email, “I think that the Governors’ Office rescinded me only because of the recall petition.”

“I signed the recall in support of my mother who was a substitute elementary school teacher,” Inglett said. “I knew she wouldn’t be able to get the full-time position she was looking for if Gov. Walker’s policies came to fruition. Which was right, she is now a bank teller.”

In Minnesota, members of the Board of Regents for the University of Minnesota system are nominated by a council in the state legislature. One of the regents must be a student at the time of election.

 We also have a body of eight student representatives to the Board that are elected by student government. This is valuable representation that Inglett says the UW system is working on acquiring through the Legislature.

In Wisconsin, the governor nominates 16 of 18 appointees to the Board, two of which must be students.

The proposed Senate Bill 157 in Wisconsin would allow student representatives to nominate student regents for the governor’s approval, curtailing the governor’s influence and furthering the UW student body’s voice.

Inglett does not think the legislation is necessary but that “a healthy relationship between the Governor’s Office and the Board of Regents is important.”

While this may be true, it is also imperative that student members represent genuine student interests and not specific political viewpoints or agendas set forth by an authority figure who is not actively immersed in the UW system. It should not be as easy as it was to rescind Inglett’s nomination without reason. As an elected official, Walker should work with people he disagrees with and bring in viewpoints other than his own. Differing political ideologies — especially dated or simply perceived ideologies — cannot be a key factor in assessing a student’s ability to serve on the board.

Though Walker never met or personally spoke with Inglett throughout the course of the nomination process — even after Inglett’s attempts to reach out to the governor after being notified he was no longer receiving the nomination — Inglett remains supportive of Walker, the state government and the UW system.

“At the end of the day I hope my fellow students are represented accurately and given a voice,” Inglett said.

In spite of our differences and a robust rivalry, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin are both land-grant institutions and have missions to serve their state through research and education.

The University of Wisconsin community must come away from this scandal with a determination toward greater student representation and a more transparent nomination process. It is unfortunate that a student’s call to serve his state, school and fellow students was so distastefully cast aside. Senate Bill 157 is a good place to start.