Proposal would send UM Curators student voting rights to public

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 | 10:48 p.m. CDT; updated 7:52 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 19, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY- While the Missouri legislature has closed the door on having a voting student curator on the UM System Board of Curators for more than a decade, St. Louis attorney Brad Ketcher hopes that everyday voters will open a window.

Ketcher proposed a ballot initiative Tuesday that would allow the public to vote on whether the student representative on the UM System Board of Curators — or other public universities in the state — will have the ability to vote.

While there are currently student representatives sitting on the governing boards of many public universities in Missouri, these students do not have the ability to vote.

Ketcher, who was chief of staff to Gov. Mel Carnahan for three years, said he has been watching this issue for a long time.

"One thing that we're missing now is students being responsible for higher loan obligations," Ketcher said. "Students have to pay more and more in tuition and have to take on more and more student loans. It's time students are given a voice. So that's what this proposal would do."

This is not the first attempt to add a student vote to the curators, however. Starting in 2007, there has been a new failure to gain support in the legislature every year.

In 2008, a bill sponsored by then-Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, made it all the way through the Missouri Senate. However, the UM System Board of Curators called an emergency meeting and voted 7-1 to oppose it and soon afterwards, Gov. Matt Blunt vetoed the bill.

That was the closest students had ever come to getting a vote with the board.

In a 2008 press release after the veto, Graham blamed "a political crony" for why the bill failed. He specifically pointed a finger at one former curator, Doug Russell, who was chairman of the Missouri Republican Party and who Graham said influenced Blunt's decision.

"This veto is just another example of why it's a bad idea to politicize the Board of Curators," Graham said in a press release at the time.

Now, with Ketcher's petition, the students could take their pleas to the people.

"One way is to get a law through the legislature," Ketcher said. "The other way is to go through a public vote. I think everyday voters would approve a measure that gives students a voice over their tuition and other important university operations."

The petition, which Ketcher calls a "huge undertaking," still needs to be approved for circulation by Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. In a process that Ketcher expects to take about three to four weeks, Kander will look it over to see if it is in the right format and develop ballot language.

Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich will develop fiscal plans for the ballot initiative as well.

Once the petition is approved, sponsors must gather signatures from registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the vote for governor in 2012 in at least six of the state's eight congressional districts for the petition to be put on the ballot.

Sponsors hope the issue would be on the November 2014 ballot.

Katie Steen, assistant legislative director for the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, said her organization looks forward to meeting with Ketcher to work on petition circulation plans. She plans for this meeting to take place as early as next week.

"We plan to help Ketcher gain signatures," Steen said. "We haven't decided formally how we will go about that ... Having a student vote is something that ASUM has supported for a long time."

This time, Steen believes, the fact that all Missouri public universities are included in the initiative will help the University of Missouri in the long run.

"We only represent the University of Missouri, and while that’s our main focus, having support from other institutions will help us with our primary goal," Steen said. "It’s definitely going to garner support from other parts of the state."

The UM System Board of Curators did not return a phone call for a comment.

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