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Newly passed bill clarifies student government powers at Oregon colleges and universities

The Oregon Legislature passed a bill Tuesday focused on strengthening the autonomy and authority of public college and university student governments over their financial decisions.

House Bill 3012 affirms the power student governments have over student fee money that is used to fund various campus programs and services, by clarifying language in an existing state statute.

The bill was making its way through the state legislature when multiple student governments in Oregon, such as those at the University of Oregon and Western Oregon, were having conflicts with administrators over delays and disagreements regarding student incidental fees.

“[T]he legislature has affirmed the importance of students at our postsecondary institutions having a say in their education and in what happens on their campus,” the Oregon Student Association, a nonprofit student advocacy group, said in a statement. “Student Fee Autonomy has been a bedrock principle of shared governance in higher education in Oregon for decades, and with the passage of this bill, we see this generation of student leaders and elected officials coming together to reaffirm its importance.”

Unlike fees controlled by college and university administrations, which may go toward facilities or classroom technology, the student incidental fee is allocated by the elected student government toward student interests — like specific student clubs and programs.

The way the current state statute is written, a college or university board has broad authority to refuse a student government’s request for an incidental fee if the administration decides the request does not add to the “cultural or physical development of students.”

HB 3012 narrows that language, stating that a board can refuse a student fee request if it is “not reasonably related to” student education, instruction, services or recreation.

Boards still have the ability to refuse a student government’s fee request if the request is in violation of a law, conflicts with a contractual financial commitment or is a 5% increase, outside of a state of emergency.

The bill also clarifies the timelines for when college or university boards must notify a student government if it is rejecting or altering a proposed fee.

Oregon Democratic Rep. Paul Evans was one of the chief sponsors of HB 3012.

“I just think if we actually want to practice democracy, these adults who are attending our public colleges and universities should have the ability to determine the priorities for this one particular type of student fee, and institutions really should have much less of a role in the decision-making,” Evans said at a legislative hearing in February.” If I was paying the amount of money that folks are paying at a public institution, I would want greater say over this particular type of fee, and that’s what this bill does.”

The bill is one of a few now that has passed this legislative session focused on student autonomy and transparency around fees.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting