The Coalition of Student Leaders, a group that represents university students from around Alaska, will vote on a revised charter that could implement new changes to the coalition and affect students from across the state. But the coalition is torn on the issues.
Since 1993, the coalition has represented the students of the University of Alaska in regard to such issues as tuition, student fees and financial aid. The Student Regent, who is the spokesperson for the coalition, is a voting member of the Board of Regents. The board is responsible for University of Alaska policy.
The major changes proposed in the new charter deal with the role of the Student Regent and creates a Board of Directors and General Assembly to delegate the work of the coalition. It is these two topics that are causing the most debate.
Joe Hardenbrook, current Student Regent from Fairbanks, proposed the revised charter that could change the role of the Student Regent and student body presidents.
“I see it as the General Assembly writes the rules and issues the coalition's stance. The Board of Directors plays ball and sets campaigns in motions,” Hardenbrook said.
Hardenbrook's idea of creating a Board of Directors and General Assembly is divisive. Penny Boschee, president of Kodiak College Student Association, is concerned about smaller schools having only one representative in the General Assembly.
“As a student from a smaller college, I do have concerns about the proposed voting representation. I am afraid that the smaller schools would loose their voice in the coalition as they would only have one or two votes to the larger schools several,” writes Boschee in an email to the Northern Light.
Under the current charter, each student government has one vote. The proposed charter suggests creating a Board of Directors with a total of seven people. Two would be at large members, representing UA system on the whole. Three would be regional directors, representing the Main Administrative Units (UAA, UAF, and UAS) and satellite campuses. There would also be one representative each for medium and low-density schools, which is determined by population. The Board of Directors would do the actual business of the coalition over the course of the year.
The General Assembly would consist of at least two, but no more than four, representatives from each school based on student population. The Assembly would write rules and elect directors.
Hardenbrook feels that the Coalition and student government have grown larger and stronger over the years and that student body presidents are being stretched too thin in their duties.
By creating a small board that focuses on coalition projects, Hardenbrook thinks that student body presidents will have more energy to focus on their specific schools. However, not every president is ready to delegate their power.
“I have plenty of time to attend a once- a- month meeting,” said Mike Dingman, UAA student body president.
He feels that the creation of a Board of Directors would take away from his role as president of the Union of Students and give the board an unusual amount of power. His concern is that the student body elected him to represent UAA. Under the revised charter, he could be elected to the Board of Directors by the General Assembly, but it's not guaranteed.
Dingman also feels that by creating a General Assembly according to school population weakens the power of both small and large schools. By having four votes instead of one, UAA may not always vote as one voice. And by giving smaller schools less votes, they may lose power.
“As it is now, each school has one vote and equal power,” said Dingman. “That's why Homer [campus] shows up.”
Other student leaders also question the proposed Board of Directors and General Assembly. Tiffany Bowers, President of Mat-Su Student Government, said she hasn't made a decision on how she will vote on the proposed charter. But she does question creating a General Assembly and Board of Directors that could exclude presidents.
“I feel that if we're student leaders then we should participate. As presidents of student unions, we're here for a reason,” said Bowers.
Mark Graves, President of United Students of UAS, feels that as the coalition and UA grow, problems become more evident. However, he is not completely convinced that the proposed charter is the way to deal with them.
He also questions whether or not rural schools would benefit much from the proposed revisions. But he does spot some positive possibilities. Graves says that the General Assembly would get more students involved in student government and decisions.
“One of the coalition's goals is to involve more students. Any kind of involvement with any amount of students is good,” said Graves. He says that delegating more responsibilities could make it easier on the presidents.
Graves is mainly concerned by the proposed revised role of the Student Regent. Graves feels that the Student Regent is entrusted to vote for the students and the revision would a no longer hold him or her accountable.
The Student Regent is a voting member of the Board of Regents and is appointed by the governor to serve a two-year term. The position exists in order to provide representation and student perspective to the Board of Regents.
The proposed charter would change the role of the Student Regent and historian relationship with the Coalition. It is customary for the Student Regent to vote in accordance with the coalition's stance. However, Hardenbrook feels that there is no provision in the current charter if the Student Regent and Coalition disagree.
The proposed charter would make the Student Regent autonomous of the Coalition, making it easier to vote against the Coalition's recommendations.
“With the proposed revisions, it's no longer regent vs. coalition. Both could disagree and still carry on with their tasks,” said Hardenbrook.
Dingman has some concerns with this revision. He said that it places the Student Regent in confilicting roles; the coalition is obligated to do what is best for students while Regents have obligations to do what is best for UAA.
“The regents' and coalition's objectives won't always match up,” said Dingman. “Ninety-nine percent of the time they will, but not always.”
The Coalition of Student Leaders of the University of Alaska took form on Sept. 26, 1993 when they ratified their first charter. According the preamble of this charter, the coalition was formed “in order to promote communication between student on each campus of each university in Alaska; to improve the lives and leadership of the students of our universities; to provide for an effective and powerful student voice in matters effecting the University of Alaska; and to enable and develop the leadership for Alaska's future.”
While student body presidents focus on issues directly affecting their respective campuses, the Coalition exists as a way for those student leaders to get together and deal with matters concerning the entire UA system.
The current coalition charter sets up a senatorial format where each student government gets one representative, usually the president of the student body. coalition meetings are open to the public and allow for discussion and public input, but when passing legislation, each student government is allowed one vote. The Student Regent takes into consideration the decisions of the Coalition when attending Board of Regents meetings, but technically can vote against the recommendations of the coalition.
Hardenbrook was concerned that the current charter is too basic and doesn't provide decent organization for the coalition.
“We're doing good things, good things are happening, we're getting things does. But there are ways to improve organization and get more students involved,” said Hardenbrook.
Hardenbrook says the coalition has always had a difficult time getting people face to face for meetings and maintaining quorum. In researching ways to improve the charter and organization of the coalition, Hardenbrook looked at other successful student associations.
The proposed charter has farther-reaching effects than just on student body president's power. The issues the coalition deals with such as tuition rates, student services, scholarships and residence life, and the seriousness in which the university and Board of Regents take their decisions and recommendations, will be affected whether the revised charter passes or not.
Hardenbrook feels that a Board of Directors solely focused on coalition activity will offer more energy and dynamic representation to the students at UA while freeing student body presidents to focus on their campus duties.
Dingman, on the other hand, said that students should be concerned that the people they elected to represent them could lose power.
More discussion on the proposed charter is planned for the Coalition's Oct. 19-21 meeting. A vote is likely to take place in November.