Editor's Note: Rich Miller is on vacation this week. His column will return next week.
Around 1950, I decided to run for the Board of Trustees of my undergraduate institution. A bunch of us were fed up with the cost of being a student and we wanted a better student life, and to remind those Adlai Stevenson-types that we knew more about the needs of the university then they did.
I sent a letter to the State of Illinois boss for education, indicating my plans, thinking he might grant all our wishes once he read my letter. I think I still have his reply somewhere in a scrapbook. The gist of the reply was: "I applaud your interest in the administration of the institution, but the matters you list as important item for the board are quite minor compared to the complex task of budget, grounds, personnel, and community relations we must attend to."
That was the end of my political career.
What are the issues that interest students the most. I would guess tuition ranks very near the top of the list. And I am going to guess their position is hard as rocks: Cut tuition, and above all, don't raise it. I hesitate to add to the list because everyone has their personal gripe. Rules governing student conduct, student authority, may well rank very high. As might parking, and student fees.
In other words, the student trustee, just as we might expect, represents young folks with personal complaints. Seldom will a gathering around the table in the Student Center be talking about "the qualities of a chancellor or should Edwardsville be gone."
The role of the Board of Trustees is quite different. Millions of dollars must be budgeted. Decisions regarding new buildings and care of the grounds must be solved. One of their duties must include the final word on the lawsuits involving faculty and staff. Relations with higher state authority is important. And as a kicker, the board must decide the fate of the leadership of the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. Plus the board has to spend time evaluating the work of the president and chancellor.
As I said earlier, I don't blame the students for wanting to cast ballots on all these issues. I did myself at one time. But I am now the first to admit that I was not qualified to handle the consequence of my vote. This will anger students because they have causes that are important to them.
And they might say the recent board hasn't shown a mature understanding of the issues before them either. True. But they will. The chairman is a strong leader and a fair one. His life on the bench proves he can handle this board. They are starting fresh and the problems they face should not be placed on the students shoulders. Student presence is helpful to the task of the board. Are students dimwits incapable of telling time. Indeed not. But the problem is they represent kids and to be true to those they represent, they have to vote the voice of the students.
We have been there. We know that voice. Giving student trustees the vote is a mistake.