After Gov. Dannel Malloy’s unexpected veto last year, state legislators are once again considering a bill to add two new student trustees at the University of Connecticut.
The bill, which is being considered by the state’s higher education committee, would add another undergraduate trustee and graduate trustee in July 2017. The new undergraduate trustee would be elected in July 2017 for a term of two years while the new graduate trustee would be appointed by the governor for a term of two years. The governor would initially appoint a new graduate trustee to serve a half-term from July 2017 to July 2018 before appointing a new graduate trustee in July 2018 to serve for the full two years.
The higher education committee held a public hearing on the bill in Hartford Tuesday. Undergraduate trustee-elect Adam Kuegler testified in favor of the legislation, saying student voices are underrepresented on the 21-member board of trustees.
“I think that there needs to be more power in the hands of the students, and I think that it’s possible to reason with (Malloy),” Kuegler said. “Whether it’s the governor or the board of trustees, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would not support this bill.”
Kuegler said he was an advocate for last year’s bill and was “baffled” to see that Malloy vetoed it. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and received only one dissenting vote in the House of Representatives before Malloy stopped the legislation in its tracks.
During the hearing, many of the legislators on the committee spoke in favor of the bill. Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said Kuegler was “preaching to the choir” while Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said she was “frustrated with the outcome.”
Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield voiced his support the legislation and said he and Flexer would be willing to set up a meeting between Malloy and Kuegler to attempt to sway the governor on the legislation.
The governor’s office declined to comment on whether Malloy would be willing to meet with Kuegler. A spokesman also declined to comment on Malloy’s current stance on the legislation or whether he would veto it again.
Kuegler said he hopes to have the chance to “sit in the room and try and reason with him.”
Under current state law, the governor’s office is responsible for appointing 12 of the 21 members on the board of trustees. Haddad pointed out that while the governor is responsible for making most of the appointments to the board, state funds only cover about 30 percent of the university’s budget. He said that is lower than the percentage that comes from tuition.
Haddad said this bill seeks to change, at least to some degree, the imbalance in representation.
Kuegler said he has not spoken with board members about the issue, but said former UConn women’s basketball star and current board member Rebecca Lobo has voiced support for the new student seats in the past.
The goal of adding new seats, Kuegler said, is to give students a greater chance to make motions and affect the legislative process on the board. Haddad said undergraduate and graduate student issues can differ at times, occasionally leaving the two student trustees without an ally.
In an effort to hear the needs of students across the state, Kuegler said he plans to visit every branch campus and give students the opportunity to voice their concerns to him. He said a second undergraduate trustee would make the task of hearing student concerns across the state much easier.
There is also the question of whether more students on the board of trustees would increase the university’s accountability. Flexer asked Kuegler if more student trustees on the board last summer – when the board approved a budget during an executive session in violation of freedom of information laws – would have prevented it from happening in the first place.
Kuegler said it would have.
“It’s difficult as a student, especially when I have 12 months on the board of trustees, trying to get my foot in and trying to understand everything that’s going on,” Kuegler said. “Any additional help we can have to catch things ... to make motions and put it on the table that we shouldn’t be in executive session, would be extremely helpful.”