When the 79th Texas Legislature began requiring the UT System Board of Regents to appoint a student regent in 2005, the goal was to foster a stronger relationship between the board and university students. However, there is no defined role on the UT System Board of Regent’s website.
Public records showed the non-paid position cost the System $80,000 total in six years for business-related expenditures.
Travel expenses are a necessary evil when there are 14 schools in the UT system. However, costs could be abated if students did not spend weekends at five-star hotels, like John Davis Rutauskas did at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 2011, collecting a $1000 charge over two nights.
Costs could also be lower if student regents did not spend nearly every other weekend attending sporting events across the country, all expenses paid, like Karim A. Meijir did from 2009 to 2010. In one year, Meijer spent $3747.44 on the cost of attending football games.
Although current student regent Justin Drake said there are rules governing what expenses are covered and to what extent they are covered, 2012-2013 student regent Ashley Purgason’s $25,000 expense report suggests otherwise.
Of course, it is important for student regents to know the students and campuses they are tasked with representing. Max Richards spent $10,200 during his time as the 2014-2015 student regent, a portion of which went toward trips to football games that he said were important because they gave him “a glimpse into the identity of an institution."
It would be okay for student regents to spend tens of thousands of UT System dollars attending sporting events if representation was as shallow as that suggests. In fact, it wouldn’t be a problem if the System defined the student regent’s sole role as attending games, shaking hands and meeting donors. But that should not be the purpose.
Students need representation in light of recent transparency issues. The sheer size of the UT System makes true representation a challenge; but as the expense reports suggests, the student regents have little more engagement with the System’s 212,000 students than attending sporting events.
Having a student representative on the UT System Board of Regents is not a bad idea. But as it stands, the role is an attempt to save face by appearing connected to the students when all it does is bankroll halfhearted representation. Attending student forums and alumni events or holding panels on pertinent topics would be student leadership. But an all-expense-paid trip to the Big 12 Championship football game should not be masked as student representation.