John Davis Rutkauskas

Following the UT System’s announcement of a unique $10-million investment in MyEdu, members of the UT community have questioned the transparency surrounding the deal. The purpose of the investment still remains unclear, and questions loom about possible conflicts of interest, as the private company was co-founded by the son of William Cunningham, former UT System chancellor and MyEdu investor.

When UT System Student Regent John Davis Rutkauskas agreed to speak at a Senate of College Councils meeting last week, we hoped to gain greater insight into the Board of Regents’ intent and the process through which the deal was made.

Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that Rutkauskas was not concerned about providing answers. While touting an “interest of transparency” in almost tongue-in-cheek irony, he demanded that Senate not record his presentation and that media be barred from attending, despite the fact that all Senate meetings are open to students and broadcast live.

The student regent is not an elected position; the regent is appointed by the governor. But in his application for the position, acquired by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act, Rutkauskas wrote that the role of the student regent is “to represent all students of the UT System.” Additionally, he is the only student privy to the operations and discussions of the regents. Both by the nature of the position and by his own admission, he has a responsibility to answer to students.

Students fought for years to get a voice at the regents’ table, finally succeeding in 2006. Now the battle has shifted to giving the student regent voting power. However, Rutkauskas’ failure to communicate openly with students undermines that effort and does a disservice to the people who fought for the creation of this position.

Rutkauskas’ actions severely hinder transparency and allow the board to appear as though it considers student input when it may not.

Editor’s note: The following quotes are from Rutkauskas’ presentation at last week’s Senate meeting regarding the UT System’s investment in MyEdu.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about MyEdu.”

“I expected that people were going to applaud the deal.”

“I think that faculty misunderstand what the technology is.”

“I think we all have a reason to be concerned, but we don’t have a reason to be worried.”

“[MyEdu] certainly won’t be used by the board to say, ‘This faculty member [is not good]. Let’s do something about it.’”

“To insinuate that students are here to take the easiest classes is insulting.”

“Through collaboration, we will be able to deliver more tools effectively to more students.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed John Davis Rutkauskas, a Plan II, business honors, finance and French junior, as the next UT System student regent on April 20. His term will begin June 1, 2011 and end May 31, 2012.

The student regent has all the same responsibilities as a full board member but cannot cast a vote. Students from any system institution are eligible to apply. Rutkauskas will act as a liaison between the students and the Board of Regents, representing student opinion to the board.

The Daily Texan: How did you get the position?

John Davis Rutkauskas: It’s a multi-step process. Each campus seeks applications from its student body. All students can apply, and you submit a simultaneous application to the governor’s office. The Student Government selects about five students to move on. Those students are then sent to the UT System, and the system selects about two to send to the governor’s office, which conducts interviews. The governor’s office then makes a selection based on that interview.

DT: What qualifies you for this position?
JDR: I was on [UT President] Bill Power’s President Student Advisory Council. There, I got exposure to how the administration looks at issues. I was also on the faculty council. [Student Government appointed Rutkauskas to serve as the non-voting student member last year.] I’m in the Plan II honors program, and I think a good liberal arts and business foundation lead to a well-rounded education.

DT: What will you do as a regent that will be different from the last?
JDR: I don’t want to comment on that.
DT: How will you determine what the student opinion is?
JDR: Talking to students. I plan on visiting the campuses in the UT System soon and meeting with their leaders and presidents. I read the campus newspapers from each school. I want to establish a LISTSERV where the student body presidents of the system institutions can have a channel for effective communication. I don’t want to limit my connections to only the student body presidents. I want to hold an open forum at those campuses. I will distribute my email so any student can contact me directly.

DT: How will you represent the views of students to the board?
JDR: I am an advocate but not an activist. Being an activist is to demand change where an advocate is someone who rationally supports change. I want to make it clear that I have an interest in the well-being of every student in the UT System and will work to my greatest ability to ensure that students are represented at the highest level of administration. It’s about making informed, rational decisions, and information is the greatest tool in making any decision. You have to obtain credibility somehow — I think you attain credibility by being rational and well informed.

DT: How will you represent the student voice during the tuition-setting year?
JDR: At the board meeting, the student body presidents come and make their own presentations. On our campus, students and administrators alike run the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee.

DT: What do you think the role of research is in higher education?
JDR: I don’t want to comment on that.