Student regent voting is topic of discussion

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University governing boards commonly include student representatives, but most student regents, including the UT System’s student regent, are forced to advocate for students without a vote.

State senators discussed the possibility of a voting student regent during last week’s Texas Tribune Festival, an annual series of panels and speakers. Current UT System student regent Ashley Purgason said the UT System Board of Regents takes her representation of the student perspective into consideration without the weight of a vote.

UT regents, the governing body of the UT System, are appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry for six-year terms. Perry also appoints the UT System student regent based on recommendations from System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. The state Legislature authorized student regents in 2005. Since then, UT System student regents have served one-year terms in a non-voting capacity.

“I can say without a doubt, my colleagues on the Board of Regents appreciate my voice and carefully consider my perspective and contributions,” Purgason said. “The student regent’s presence as a liaison for students is valued and respected as much as any other member of the board.”

Purgason, a UT Medical Branch at Galveston graduate student, said the student regent position is still in its infancy, but she is confident the board maintains students as the central focus of the decisions it makes.

UT System spokesperson Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the regents do not have the authority to designate a student regent as a voting member and a change would have to come through legislative action.

During a Texas Tribune Festival panel focused on higher and public education previewing the 83rd Legislative session, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said there is support for a voting UT System student regent but not enough traction in the state Legislature to pass it.

“The issue of student regents voting is more complex,” Zaffirini said.

She said qualifications for a student regent would need to be considered because they would lack the years of experience appointed voting regents have.

Most of the regents have a background in education, including appointments to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and positions on advisory boards at other universities. Others have experience in business.

Student regents at Arizona State University and in the University of California System serve in the position for two years and are able to vote during their second year.

The University of California System student regent is selected by the regents after being interviewed by the system’s student association rather than being appointed by the state governor.

Jonathan Stein, UC System student regent, said this allows for a representative whom students can count on to confront other regents while still working cooperatively to represent students in a unified way.

“The vote has enormous power,” Stein said. “The student regent serves as an activist who moves between working with the regents and the student community while serving both.”

The student regent at the University of Washington also has voting rights except with personnel matters including hiring, discipline and tenure. Other universities or university systems with voting student regents include Washington State University and the University of Alaska.

During the Texas Tribune Festival panel, Texas state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said adding a student vote to the Board of Regents could force the board into a deadlock when voting on issues.

“I know a lot of private institutions have student regents with a vote, but it’s a little different,” Branch said. “Many times private institutions have a much larger board of regents, but over the years we’ve narrowed our boards down to nine.”

A student vote would bring the number of voting members on the Board of Regents to 10.
—Additional reporting by Bobby Blanchard.

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Student regent power may expand with vote