Austin's new College Student Commission to formalize lobbying voice for students

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Members of Student Government present A.R. 20, which supports the revival of a college student task force that would give City Council input on issues. The City Council passed an ordinance creating College Student Commisions last month.

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

The City Council passed an ordinance last month, creating a permanent College Student Commission to give students a greater voice in affecting city policy.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo sponsored the resolution after working with Student Government, University Democrats and city officials for several months to decide how best to set up the commission. Alden Marshall, SG’s city relations director, worked with Tovo’s office for several months on the details of the commission. Marshall said the commission will give students a more direct route to articulate concerns to the Council.

“I think college students are particularly ready to see some change in the political system and really are concerned about issues that affect them so that alone should give us all impetus to act,” said Marshall, a government and management information systems sophomore. 

Marshall co-authored a SG resolution in support of the commission that passed unanimously. The assembly resolution lists several potential issues the commission could address, including transportation, housing, affordability, immigration and public safety.

The new commission was born out of the temporary Student Quality of Life Commission that was formed in 2015. The goal of the new commission is to advise and make recommendations to the Council regarding any issues in the city that affect college students, according to the ordinance.

The commission will consist of 15 members, three each from UT-Austin, Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University, Concordia University and Huston-Tillotson University. The commission will meet at least quarterly.

Each member of the commission will serve for up to two years, and the individual schools will decide how they select who is appointed to the commission. But only one person from each school’s student government body may be chosen in order to ensure greater diversity in the commission’s membership, Tovo said.

“It makes sense to me to have a balance there,” Tovo said. “We want to make sure we’re using the commission to reach as many students as possible.”

Similar to most other city commissions and boards, members will be required to participate in training, attend all meetings and follow the Texas Open Meetings Act. However, as not all students are Austin residents, members are exempted from the residency requirement applied to the majority of other commissions. This is one of the only city commissions with this exemption.

University Democrats member Kimberly Romero said the commission will give students at the various schools the opportunity to leverage their collective power to advocate for issues that affect all of them.

“It’s beautiful that (we are) going to be able to collaborate,” said Romero, a government and education senior. “It’s so easy to get frustrated with our concerns, and then we forget that other people and other students at universities in this town also have their own concerns which are just as important as ours.”

Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair was the only person who voted against the commission because she said she would rather appoint students to the city’s 60-plus currently existing boards and commissions than create another one.

Santiago Rosales, SG chief of staff, said it will likely be at least a few months before the commission holds its first meeting, in order to allow the schools included to choose their appointees.