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How students become university trustees

For the second time in USF history, the student member of the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) has been chosen from a campus other than Tampa. USF St. Pete student body president-elect Jozef Gherman was elected to the position Friday by a board of Student Government (SG) members from the university’s three campuses.

Ever since the BOT was established, a student body president has been an appointed member and brings the voice of the students to the highest level of administration. 

Until recent years, that student voice has traditionally come from the Tampa campus.

In 2012, then-student body president Brian Goff sought to make the selection process fair for the whole USF System by creating a voting body to decide who the member should be. The student body presidents from all three campuses signed the memorandum.

In the document, procedures were established for voting, and it was decided that each campus would have a certain number of voting members on a board to elect the trustee.

“Each campus is allotted three standing positions: they have the current student body president, the student body president elect and the senate president,” SG Attorney General Alex Johnson said. “In addition to that, every 10,000 students a campus has, they get an additional seat. You can have up to six seats total.”

The agreement was necessary because USF’s branch campuses are each separately accredited.

“By state law, normally the student body president automatically gets on the Board of Trustees,” Johnson said. 

Therefore, the memorandum set forth by Goff dictated that, once a year, before the end of April, the voting members of the selection body would meet to vote for the candidate.

The year after the agreement was signed into action, the student body president from the St. Pete campus, Mark Lombardi-Nelson, was selected to sit on the board, rather than Tampa’s candidate, then-student body president William Warmke.

“Some people will say that Tampa has a large advantage because we have more seats,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, just because you’re a Tampa student, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily vote for Tampa. So all of the presidents have an equal chance, if they choose to run.”

Current student body president Jean Cocco ran unopposed last year when he was up for the seat on the board. Regarding this year’s selection, he felt it could have been anyone, as none of the other branch presidents had revealed their intention to run.

“It’s up for grabs, and I think that whoever decides to want to run to be the trustee needs to be prepared,” Cocco said. “They need to have a great presentation, and really need to prove and show that they understand the position of a trustee and that they understand that this position is directly representative of the student body.” 

In Cocco’s tenure as trustee, he served on the Academics and Campus Environment work group. He was able to share his voice about the concealed carry issue, as well as campus life and mental health.

Cocco said he took a very forward position on the board, once he had gotten into his niche.

Though Andy Rodriguez, USF Tampa SG’s president-elect, was not selected as the trustee, that does not mean the Tampa campus will go unheard, as the current trustee emphasized he is often in contact with other student body presidents.

The news of Gherman’s election did not rest easy with Rodriguez, especially since the vote was 5-7.

“I’m really upset because I genuinely believe that I had a great opportunity, and I really could have represented the students of the system well,” Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately for Tampa, one of the voting members has had hard feelings against me all year … the other two campuses were teaming up, because the reality is that Tampa gets as many votes as both of them combined.

“It was just an unfortunate event that had nothing to do with merit, but it is what it is. I’m going to move forward, I’m going to do my job as the student body president to the best of my ability. And I’m not going to let this slow me down in any way, shape or form.”