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Regents near-unanimous in opposing expansion to allow student representative

Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2013 | 1:24 p.m.

Nevada's higher education leaders opposed on Friday a bill that would allow a student representative on the board of regents, which oversees Nevada's seven colleges and universities.

The issue: Assembly Joint Resolution 8 calls for a constitutional amendment that would allow a Nevada college student to become a 14th voting member on the Nevada System of Higher Education's Board of Regents.

The vote: 11-2, with Regents Cedric Crear and Jason Geddes dissenting.

The impact: The regents have now formally added their voice to the legislative debate on the merits of adding a student member to the 13-member Board of Regents.

Regents said they were supportive of student voices but expressed concerns about having a student join the board.

Regent Andrea Anderson questioned where the student representative would come from, given the intense north-south debates over education funding.

"Which college would they come from? Would they rotate?" Anderson asked. "It's fraught with all sorts of problems."

Regent Kevin Page argued a 14th regent would create an even-numbered board, creating the possibility of a tie vote.

Regent Kevin Melcher argued that approving the bill could spur other groups, such as faculty, to call for a regent to represent their interests on the board.

"I can see this whole thing evolving to everyone wanting a voice," Melcher said, adding a student regent may have potential conflicts of interest on some issues.

Regent James Dean Leavitt argued the Board of Regents represents a wide range of stakeholders across the state – taxpayers, faculty and staff – not just students. If anything, student voices are perhaps heard the most at regents' meetings, because of student representatives from student governments and the student alliance, he said.

"The student voice is heard loud and clear," Leavitt said. "They have a tremendous influence."

Regent Ron Knecht reserved the harshest criticism for the bill, calling the idea of a student regent "fundamentally unsound." He said he was concerned students would be able to cast two votes – once for a regent and another for a student representative on the board – if the student regent is elected.

"What is the whole point of having a student regent?" Knecht asked. "We're actively engaged with (students).

Student leaders across Nevada have argued in Carson City they should have representation on the Board of Regents, which develops public policies that affect students in particular.

Since the recession, regents have increased tuition at UNLV by 73 percent, far outpacing the rate of inflation. Regents have also approved a $150-per-semester student fee at Nevada State College to fund about half of the $61 million cost of constructing a new academic building and student center on the Henderson campus.

"We have access to regents, but sometimes it's not enough," said Michael Gordon, president of the Nevada Student Alliance, a coalition of student leaders from across the state. "We just want to be active in supporting student voices."

Nevada is one of 10 states without a student regent. There are 32 states that have student regents with voting rights.

CORRECTION: This version corrects the headline to reflect 12-1 vote by regents. | (April 23, 2013)

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