A bill under consideration by the Florida Senate poses a dire threat to student voice in the decisions of the state Legislature -removing the election process for the student representative on the Board of Governors (BOG) and transferring the position to an appointment by the governor.
Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times that the bill seeks to eliminate the “pay to play” policy imposed by the Florida Student Association (FSA) membership fee. However, the organization, comprised of student body presidents from each of the 11 state universities except Florida State University, revoked this policy in January 2011, according to current FSA President and BOG student representative Michael Long.
The bill appears to have no legitimate goal, other than taking away power from a group of elected students and handing that power to the governor.
The elected representative is currently chosen through a democratic process: Student body presidents are elected at their individual universities, and the FSA, comprised of these representatives, in turn votes for the student representative tothe BOG. The long-standing tradition works because it pools from a selection of the best candidates from each school.
The faculty-elected position on the BOG, on the other hand, is not up for debate, though elected through a similar process, the bill, House Joint Resolution 931, does not even mention the faculty position. The bill directly and unfairly targets students.
What was once a democratic process can now potentially bias the appointment in a direction that could leave out USF and the other eight Florida universities that do not carry as much camaraderie as the two “old school” universities, FSU and University of Florida, USF student body President Matt Diaz told The Oracle.
Choosing a representative from one’s own school, though potentially unethical, may become an option as governors are unlikely to have the time or interest in interviewing every interested and qualified candidate and likely would not personally know many Florida students. It is now possible that the position could be granted to a student who supports the governor’s views on what were previously student issues and possible that the governor may pool from government interns or members of his or her alma mater.
Long told The Oracle that he recently received criticism for speaking out against state Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales), by saying that the senator used his power inappropriately.
It is worrisome that a representative who acts in the interest of students may soon be eliminated.
The bill is simply a waste of the Legislature’s time. A similar bill was considered last year, but failed to receive enough support to pass. With the “pay to play” policy no longer in effect, there is no reason to consider another bill about a fee that no longer exists.
The proposal is simply another attempt to unfairly remove power from students, while retaining many other positions on the board.
In light of tuition raises, budget cuts and other issues facing universities and students, a removal of the student voice on the BOG is just a method to pass legislation that neglect students’ best interests.