A bill in the state Legislature would give the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition an advisory role to the state Office of Higher Education.
The MSLC is a recently founded organization that advocates for University interests at the state and federal level on behalf of students at all five University of Minnesota campuses and in the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. It was founded by student leaders and is endorsed by the University administration.
“Our job is to act as the interface between student representation and the legislative process,” said MSLC founder and director Chris Tastad. “We not only speak on behalf of students, but we also intervene at points that we think are relevant for the betterment of students in legislative policy.”
With the MSLC being in its inaugural year, it is still looking to gain political clout and become better connected with legislators and the governmental process.
One area where the group hopes to get involved is in the Student Advisory Council. The SAC is a six-member council made up of student representatives from all types of state higher education institutions.
The council meets throughout the year to offer the Office of Higher Education different perspectives on student-related issues.
Even though the SAC already has a member on its council who represents the University of Minnesota — Student Senate Chair Joshua Preston — Tastad said having a voice from the MSLC would be valuable.
“We essentially provide two unique perspectives that would add to this committee, not exactly duplicate what was going on.”
Preston agreed with Tastad and said including a voice from the MSLC on the council would be beneficial.
“If the whole point of this is to provide student perspectives to the Office of Higher Education, why not have as much diversity in opinion as possible?”
While other SAC members appreciate the work of the MSLC and welcome the idea of increased dialogue, they have reservations about adding the organization’s chair to the council.
The current structure includes one representative from the University, four-year public schools, private colleges, technical colleges, community colleges and private vocational schools.
Since the SAC has always had one member from each distinct area of higher education, some are afraid adding the MSLC to the council would create an imbalanced representation.
Amanda Skorich, who represents Minnesota private colleges on the SAC, said she welcomes the idea of adding the MSLC chair, but with one of two stipulations.
She would like to see the SAC add a new member for each area of higher education, so that all would have two representatives on the board.
Otherwise, she said the University of Minnesota representatives should work it out so that they only have one vote on the council.
Geoff Dittberner, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association and a member of the SAC, also said he would take issue with the MSLC having a vote on the council.
“It’s just unfair to give that similar group, the University of Minnesota students, an additional vote on the council.”
Tastad said voting isn’t an issue because the SAC almost always votes on matters related to the council, such as bylaws and electing officers, and rarely policy endorsements or positions.
Marilyn Kosir, who works in the Office of Higher Education and helps to oversee the SAC, said all votes have been related to internal issues in her short time working with the council.
“I think the whole key thing here to look at is that this group is advisory in nature and that they are not going to be affecting policy changes from a vote or a democratic standpoint but merely just by the perspectives that are provided on the committee,” Tastad said.
The House omnibus higher education bill passed with the provision included 129-1 on April 19.
However, the Senate version that passed 65-0 two days earlier didn’t include the change to the SAC.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who originally brought the provision to a legislative committee, said House members were very supportive of the change. But she said she’s not sure how the Senate will view it.
A conference committee will meet Wednesday to resolve differences in the bills. If the section to change the SAC membership is included, and both chambers repass the bill, the MSLC would succeed in taking another large step to strengthen its influence.