Opinion

On Florida Amendment 12: Vote yes

Eighth in a series

Amendment 12 would change the way Florida selects the student representative who serves on the Florida University System Board of Governors. On the surface, the amendment seems obscure, but the Board of Governors has heavy duties, including controlling, managing and spending taxpayer money, and regulating the entire state university system. This amendment would:

Change the procedure in the state constitution providing for the selection of the student representative on the Board of Governors.

Remove the president of the Florida Student Association from the Board of Governors, and replace the position with the chair of a newly created council of state student body presidents.

Make the representation of students more broadly inclusive, because every state university’s student body president is democratically elected and would have equal eligibility to serve as student representative on the board.

It’s useful for students to be represented on the Board of Governors because it exercises authority over Florida’s university system. Issues are often discussed that are directly relevant to students’ interests and pocketbooks.

The problem is that, currently, the constitution provides that the student seat be reserved for the president of the Florida Student Association, which does not include representatives of all the state’s universities.

Just as troubling is that the student association is a private lobbying organization with such a history of funding controversies that not every university chooses to fund it. To permit participating universities to have their student body presidents considered for appointment to the Board of Governors, the Florida Student Association requires those schools to pay thousands of dollars in membership dues to the private association.

Creating a Council of Student Body Presidents would give the elected president of each state university student body equal opportunity to be voted as council chair, making each equally eligible to be the student representative on the Board of Governors.

As an example of how things can go awry, Florida State University’s student government decided to stop paying student activity fees to the Florida Student Association because it decided it was unwise to give money to a private lobbying organization. Other universities shared this concern. But dropping out meant FSU’s president was no longer eligible to serve as the student representative to the Board of Governors. Even though the Florida Student Association has temporarily suspended certain dues mandates, it can reinstate those requirements at a future date once this issue has been decided. The current arrangement smacks of a “pay-to-play” mentality, prohibiting equal opportunity for some college students to have their elected student body leader eligible to serve on the governing board of the state university system.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a former student body president, and a graduate, of Florida State University.)

The current system of selecting the student representative to the Board of Governors is flawed. Florida needs a level playing field for all the 340,000 students in the state university system to be eligible for representation at the governing level. In order to seek such representation, students should not be required to pay student fees to a private organization that engages in political lobbying.

Vote Yes on Amendment 12 if you want to inject some fairness in the state university system’s student representation.

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John R. Smith
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