Bill will extend student representation in CSU

Imran Majid

While the California State University system administers the duties and functions of its state colleges through the Board of Trustees, students have a voice in the decision-making through two student trustees.

The California State Student Association acts as a governing body for students by addressing student issues within the CSU, recommending student representatives to the governor for appointment and serving as “informed and responsible advocates of students’ concerns by creating awareness of student needs,” according to its constitution.

“Students are the reason why the CSU exists,” said Student Trustee Ian Ruddell. “Without the students’ input, it would not be a legitimate organization.”

As a senior gender and religious studies major at Chico State, Ruddell became an advocate for women’s issues, and said he felt like he could make a difference at the statewide level.

Ruddell is currently in his second year as a student trustee, serving as the liaison between students and the board. He maintains relationships with the other trustees and university presidents, and advocates the student perspective.

“It’s a great opportunity to affect change across the system,” Ruddell said. “My interest in advocating for underrepresented minorities and historically suppressed groups – it’s really what was the driving factor for me becoming involved.”

While two students serve on the board, only the most senior member may vote on measures and proposals. Each representative serves staggered two-year terms, such that a student may only vote in his or her second year.

While he is currently the non-voting representative, CSU San Marcos psychology and first-generation college student Cipriano Vargas became passionate about people’s rights at a young age when he worked in the strawberry fields alongside his father.

When he was a sophomore, Vargas took a stand to have his voice heard by becoming a part of student government at his campus, working his way up to a student trustee to help influence decisions and provide insight on issues such as tuition and other fees.

“I believe strongly in the mission of the CSU, which is to provide a high-quality and affordable education for the people of California,” Vargas said. “I want to make sure that mission statement is reflected in the mission that, as a student, I can do anything possible to address issues, and that’s why I applied for the Board of Trustees.”

Now a senior, Vargas balances his schoolwork so he can visit various campuses each week to meet with students and learn about their perspectives and challenges. 

“At the end of the day, I care about this job and the work that I do and I’m going to go that extra mile,” Vargas said.

In an effort to further empower the student voice, Assemblyman Richard Pan proposed AB 46, a new bill introduced in the state Legislature last December that would grant ex officio trustees and the student trustees absentee voting.

Under the bill, ex officio members, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the assembly and the superintendent of public instruction, can designate a staff person to attend a meeting and speak and vote on his or her behalf. The first-year student representative may also vote if the second-year student is not present.

“The people of California decided that these offices should have a voice on the Board of Trustees,” Pan said. “We want to be sure that we respect the role of the people of California who said that these offices should be present, and should be able to exercise a vote.”

Pan said the ex officio members often have conflicting duties because the Board of Trustees meetings occur during the busiest times of the legislature.

The bill passed in the Assembly Higher Education Committee with a 9-3 vote on March 19, and was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

While Vargas and Ruddell support absentee voting for student trustees, they raised concerns about absentee voting for ex officio members, because they shape the mentality of the other trustees.   

“The ex officio members are part of the board because they can provide information that is relevant,” Vargas said. “Because of their position, they work directly with the CSU and we want to make sure that they are present during Board of Trustees meetings and they’re getting the same information that any other trustee is getting.”