House passes bill to grant student trustees voting rights

State lawmakers are inching student trustee voting rights closer to reality, but it’s unclear if Ohio University would grant those rights to its student representatives.

House Bill 111, which passed last week in the House, would allow public universities to decide whether student trustees vote in university decisions alongside board of trustees members.

A university’s board of trustees is its governing body. The board’s approval is typically the last step necessary to kickstart many major university construction projects and long-term academic goals.

“President McDavis and Board Secretary (Peter) Mather have kept us informed of the legislative progress related to HB 111,” said Mather in an email on behalf of the board. “We have asked them to keep us updated as HB 111 moves to the Senate, so the Board can act at the appropriate time. The Board of Trustees appreciates the important contribution made by the student trustees and looks forward to their continued involvement in the governance of Ohio University.”

OU student trustees have typically stood by the university’s decision to not grant student trustees the ability to vote, claiming they have enough access to board discussions by attending their executive sessions.

But OU’s first-year student trustee Keith Wilbur disagrees.

“I’m excited that it’s passed and it’s moving through, but I’m cautiously excited,” Wilbur said.

The bill passed the House easily, with 87 representatives voting for the bill and six voting against it, according to Statehouse voting records.

Among the votes for the bill was Athens-area representative Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, according to the records.

Rob Nichols, a spokesperson for Gov. John Kasich, said the governor has yet to take a stance on the bill, but that he is “monitoring (its) progress.”

The bill is awaiting vote in the Senate. A date for that vote has not been announced. Many of the bill’s supporters have expressed concerns about the bill passing once it gets there, where a previous bill mandating student trustee voting rights was rejected last year.

Nonetheless, the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, and Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, said they are determined to see the bill pass, despite expected opposition.

“I do support giving student trustees voting rights," said Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville. "I think it's a good thing and gives students a voice at these major institutions."

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