By DANNY LAWHON
COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri System Board of Curators voted Monday morning in an emergency meeting to voice its opposition to Senate Bill 873, which could create a voting student curator position.
The vote by teleconference was 7-1, with curator John Carnahan of Springfield opposing the announcement and St. Louis curator David Wasinger absent.
Tony Luetkemeyer, the student representative to the board, was also absent from the teleconference because he was taking a final exam, he said.
The bill would establish a two-year voting student curator position if Missouri drops to eight Congressional districts following the 2010 census. The student curator would be appointed by the governor from a list of candidates the UM System would provide, said Steve Knorr, UM’s vice president for governmental relations.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, passed the Senate by a 31-2 margin in April.
It was heard in the House Higher Education Committee April 22 and passed 4-3 on May 1. The House has not yet voted on the bill, and Columbia legislators are divided.
Two Columbia Democratic representatives, Judy Baker and Jeff Harris, support the bill.
“I’ve always been supportive because the students are people who have a direct interest in the goings-on of the university,” Harris said.
But Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said students might not have sufficient experience. “What if teachers decide they want a member on the board? A teacher who’s been here for 25 years knows more than a student who’s been there for six. They don’t have enough life or business experience.”
The board of curators sent a resolution to be distributed to state legislators Monday outlining several points of opposition to the bill.
The resolution said the UM System is a complex organization with a “steep learning curve.” With student curators serving two-year terms, board members are concerned that they will barely have been oriented to policies by the time the term expires.
“I’m in my sixth year, and I’m still continually learning more in-depth things about our university,” Cheryl Walker, board chairwoman, said.
Don Walsworth, the curator from Marceline, said he “encourages 100 percent” students being on the board to sit in and contribute to meetings, but he didn’t think they should have voting rights.
“I don’t think a person on this board for a two-year term has the background, the knowledge, to vote on some important issues,” he said.
Luetkemeyer, who sits on the board but cannot cast votes, said he believes the board’s concept of the learning curve is off the mark.
“Most student curators, prior to being in that position, have had previous student leadership experiences,” he said. “As a student government leader on the Columbia campus, I spent a year and a half navigating the UM System before coming onto the board.”
The discussion of the learning curve was one of the more frustrating arguments to hear, said Craig Stevenson, legislative director for the Associated Students for the University of Missouri, who sat in on the teleconference. He said the learning curve for a student is smaller than that of an adult curator, and that the curators are opposing the idea based on principle.
Marion Cairns, the curator from Webster Groves, said allowing a student curator to vote creates a “conflict of interests,” because students are part of the institution. The board’s resolution says a voting student would create a “biased constituent seat on an otherwise lay board.” The resolution also says there are many other constituencies — such as faculty and staff — that don’t have a vote on the board.
Luetkemeyer said the fear that all sorts of constituent groups will be clamoring for votes is overblown.
“If you look at the other states that have approved a voting student curator,” he said, “virtually none of them have created votes for other constituencies on that board.”
Cairns also said she believes students would often take the short-term view when the curators must take the long-term into account.
Luetkemeyer said he can’t imagine a situation in which he wouldn’t vote with the long-term effects in mind.
“Yes, my responsibility is and would be to represent the student interest if I could vote,” Luetkemeyer said. “But my mind-set is that we need to do what’s best for the institution, not for today, necessarily, but the long-term. As a student who pays tuition, would I set that feeling aside and vote for a tuition increase? Yes, I would. At the same time I would just demand that the university be fiscally responsible.”