Student representatives advise Board of Regents

by Heather Fors

Along with the normal load of mid-terms and research papers, seven students carry the weight of University students’ interests on their shoulders.
The student representatives to the Board of Regents, who hail from the University’s four campuses, act as liaisons between the board and the students. They make up a consultative body that advises the regents of students’ concerns.
As the institution’s most powerful and influential governing body, members of the Board of Regents make decisions affecting virtually every aspect of student life on the Twin Cities, Morris, Duluth and Crookston campuses. From regulating tuition costs to making decisions about faculty pay raises and building renovations, the regents have a hand in almost everything that happens at the University.
“Student input needs to be involved in that process,” said Jennifer Molina, a student representative from the Twin Cities campus.
“A lot of people think the president makes all the decisions, but he doesn’t,” said Molina, a senior in family social science and international relations.
Although the student representatives don’t cast votes on issues brought before the board, their input is carefully weighed before decisions are made, regents said.
“Students are the lifeblood of the University,” said Board of Regents Chairman William Hogan II. “Without listening to them, we can’t be the best governing body.”
Hogan said while he appreciates comments and feedback student representatives give, he is particularly impressed with the representatives’ consideration for what is best for the University as a whole, not just its students.
“Every member values the relationship with students and looks forward to hearing from them,” Hogan said.
Compared to some other Big Ten schools, the University Board of Regents treats student representatives more as equals to be taken seriously, said Regent Jessica Phillips, who was once a student representative for the Morris campus and is now the student board member.
But the respect paid to the student representatives is hard-earned, they say; student representatives don’t take their jobs lightly.
Each month they review the regents’ docket — a packet of proposals brought to the board for review, discussion and approval — and come up with a plan focusing on the issues that affect students most.
While some issues are more critical to students than others, the representatives established a set of key topics to be tackled by the end of their term in June.
By concentrating on issues such as low tuition, increased scholarships and financial aid, increased parking and housing, and graduate student compensation, the representatives work as a team toward shared goals.
While the students would like to focus on more issues, they do have limitations.
“There’s only so much you can really tackle in one year,” said Scott Roethle, chairman of the student representatives and a junior in physiology and management.
One issue the student representatives want to work on is improving communication with other students.
Ben Solomon, the student representative for the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and a second-year medical student, said before he became a representative he was so busy with school he didn’t know there was a conduit between students and board members.
“There are an awful lot of students like me running around,” Solomon said.
He’s concerned about the communication gaps between students and regents. He said that gap doesn’t need to exist.
“That’s what reps are for,” Solomon said.
“We can’t be true student representatives if we go in there and only know what we think,” said Jennifer Wagner, student representative for the St. Paul campus and an applied economics senior.
Although she’s heard people complaining, Wagner said most students don’t realize she can bring their issues to the attention of the regents.
Student representatives are chosen by various student leadership organizations. And while the student representatives have contact with their electing organization, such as the Minnesota Student Association, GAPSA and the St. Paul Board of Colleges, many students don’t have contact with the representatives.
“If I could do anything, I’d want to hear more of the student voice,” Wagner said.