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Petition seeks to create student curators at all schools

Missourians have until Saturday to comment on a proposed initiative petition that, if approved by voters, would create one student curator’s position on each Missouri public college or university board — including Lincoln University, Linn State Technical College and the University of Missouri.

Current state law provides for non-voting student representatives to meet with schools’ curators or regents and participate in their open-session discussions.

The nine-page petition replaces those representatives with students who would have the same voting authority as the other board members.

The student position still would have some differences, including a two-year term rather than six and, for some of the schools, different residency requirements.

And the student curator is to be “nonpartisan,” while state law otherwise limits the number of board members from any political party.

Like the adult board members, the student curators also would have to be Missouri residents.

In addition, they would have to be full-time students and be current on their bills and fees (or have payment arrangements with their school that are current).

For the University of Missouri board, the proposed petition would keep nine curators and require one of those to be the student.

For Lincoln, Linn State Tech and other schools, the student curator would be an additional member.

All student curators would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Missouri Senate.

By law, the secretary of state writes the ballot language for initiative petition ballot issues.

Since becoming Missouri’s secretary of state last January, Jason Kander began the public comment process, which includes posting the proposed initiative petition online as soon as its form is approved and giving Missourians five days to comment on the proposal.

The student curators proposal can be found at www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2014petitions/14init_pet_active.asp#2014-051.

Kander and his staff consider all comments as they write the language to appear on petitions as they’re circulated, and on the ballot if the sponsors get enough valid signatures to put the proposal on the ballot.

The student curators proposal would change state law, not the Constitution, so supporters must gather signatures from registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the total vote for governor in 2012, in at least six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

St. Louis County attorney Brad Ketcher — a former chief of staff for Gov. Mel Carnahan — submitted the proposed petition to Kander’s office. He declined Tuesday to identify his clients.

But, he told The Associated Press: “Students are bearing increasing proportions of the costs of their higher education — they’re paying more tuition, they’re having to borrow more.

“It’s high time that they had a full voice on their university boards when issues like tuition and fee increases come up.”

The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that, from 2008-13, Missouri’s inflation-adjusted, per-student funding for higher education declined by $2,013, or nearly 30 percent.

During that same time, the average inflation-adjusted tuition at Missouri’s public universities rose by $388, a little more than 5 percent — one of the lowest tuition-hike rates in the nation.

Corbin Evans, executive director of The Associated Students of the University of Missouri, told the AP on Tuesday the organization wasn’t involved in drafting the proposed ballot initiative, but long has supported efforts to allow student curators to vote.

“The problem with not having a vote is that we don’t have that guarantee that our voice is going to be equally heard with the rest of the curators,” Evans said.

Previous proposals, including one passed by the Legislature in 2008 but vetoed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, would have allowed student curators to vote on most issues — but not personnel ones, including issues involving a school’s president, or faculty promotions and tenure.

But the new petition doesn’t have those limits, and allows the student curators to attend all board meetings, open or closed.

The current student representatives can’t attend closed sessions, either.

“Under this proposal, they get to vote on all issues,” Ketcher told the News Tribune. “That closed session language (in current law) is sunseted when this proposal kicks in.”

If voters approve the proposal in the November 2014 general election, the changes would begin Jan. 1, 2015 — and require the governor to appoint the new student curators by Jan. 31, 2015, with the current student representatives continuing to serve until the state Senate approves the new appointees.

In 2008, Blunt’s veto said the bill — which affected only the University of Missouri — gave students a special stake on a board that’s supposed to represent all parts of the university system.

MU’s curators voted 7-1 to oppose that 2008 bill.

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