Listening to our students

Rep. Joe Heilman, Fargo

Student leaders at our state’s fine institutions of higher education have been under fire recently for a vote of “no confidence” in the N.D. University System’s chancellor. I, for one, don’t see their actions as absurd, inappropriate, or misguided.

During the academic year of 2008-2009, I had the honor of serving as the student body president at North Dakota State University. It was a great experience and taught me how to deliberate ideas and make decisions that affected the people I represented. During that time, I frequently worked with other student leaders around the State through the North Dakota Student Association. The students that came to these meetings were incredibly engaged, did their research, and made good decisions. Consider this…how many college students do you know who are willing to give up one weekend a month to travel and debate state policy? It’s not exactly your typical “college experience.” I have always had a great deal of respect for the students who were willing to step up, take a stand, and have an impact in North Dakota.

It’s disappointing to hear that some influential members of our local media outlets, active citizenry, and even some state legislators think that the student governments and N.D. Student Association are “puppet” organizations for our college/university presidents or certain legislators. That is simply not the case.

When I was involved, yes, I did get information from our university president. However, I also worked very hard to understand both sides of every issue. When it came time to make a decision, we considered all the information and made an informed decision. Sometimes our university leaders were happy, other times they were not. We worked through our differences with administration, faculty, and staff.

Those who criticize our student governance and representative organizations simply don’t understand how independent they really are. For example, the NDSU Student Government is involved with nearly every major policy change that affects students. They also manage a student activity fee budget of over $3 million with minor oversight from a board of advisors. These are major responsibilities and students have a prominent seat at the table that they take very seriously. The debate at the NDSA meeting, leading up to the vote of “no confidence,” went on for nearly two hours and weeks of research was done ahead of time.

Whether we like the positions they take, or not, let’s respect the fact that these young adults can make their own decisions. After all, isn’t that why they’re in college in the first place? We should give them a little more credit for the sometimes tough decisions they choose to make.