If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, would he become a faculty or staff member at the University of Utah?
According to a group of U. students the answer is probably not.The question arose in a campus newspaper ad sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Utah, who say some high-powered higher education officials have kept HB27 from progressing in the Utah Legislature. The ad states university officials "are in opposition to democratization of the system of higher education."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Hugh D. Rush, a former Salt Lake Democrat who recently switched to the Republican party, calls for faculty and staff representatives on the Institutional Councils of Utah's nine public universities and colleges. The bill passed the House on Jan. 13 and, on Jan. 16, reached the Senate Rules Committee, where it has sat ever since.
Several university students, along with lobbyists for the Utah Public Employees Association, spent Monday bending senators' ears trying to get them to bring the legislation to the floor for debate.
The students were unable to get the bill moved out of the rules committee on Monday. Still, they hope they have garnered the support of enough senators to suspend legislative rules, which would allow the bill to be added directly to the debate calendar, a route considered a longshot by most lawmakers.
"The whole key is to not give up until you've lost - then you admit defeat," said U. student Bill Kinnear. "It's horrible to not give the public a chance to talk about (the bill)."
The bill has been openly opposed by several university presidents including Chase N. Peterson of the U., as well as the state Board of Regents and the U. Institutional Council. It was thought to be a dead issue. The students are employing some last-minute maneuvers hoping the bill can at least reach the floor before the legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight. The students, having contacted all the senators at least once, think they have enough support to see it passed.
"What is occurring is that we're trying to knock HB27 out of the Senate Rules Committee," said Paul Kafer, the U.'s chief student lobbyist. "It's not a radical move but a democratic principle."
The U.'s student government supports the bill, he said, because faculty and staff work directly with students and should have some say in the direction the university takes. Kafer said if the bill were enacted it would allow "more democratic representation" on the council, which is currently made up of eight gubernatorial appointees plus a university alumnus and the president of the associated students.
Mark Mickelsen, UPEA chief lobbyist for higher education, said having faculty and staff representation will give university employees a voice and also go a long way toward building employee morale.
The original bill was amended after several legislators took exception to language they believed could give the new members voting rights on the council. It now designates the faculty and staff members as non-voting members only.