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Rep. Joe Heilman, Published March 12 2013

Letter: Students welcome in debate

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

During the academic year of 2008-09, I served as 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. I frequently worked with other student leaders around the state through the North Dakota Student Association. The students that came to these meetings were 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 to debate state policy? It’s not exactly your typical “college experience.”

I have always had respect for the students who were willing to step up, take a stand and make an impact. It’s disappointing to hear that some influential members of local media outlets, active citizenry and even some legislators think student governments and North Dakota Student Association are “puppet” organizations for our college/university presidents or certain legislators. That is not the case.

When I was involved, yes, I did get information from our university president. However, I also worked 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 university leaders were happy, other times they were not. We worked through our differences with administration, faculty and staff.

Those who criticize student governance and representative organizations don’t understand how independent they really are. For example, 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 advisers. These are major responsibilities, and students have a prominent seat at the table that they take seriously.

The debate at the Student Association meeting, leading up to the vote of “no confidence,” went on for nearly two hours; 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 make.

Rep. Heilman, R-Fargo, represents District 45 in the North Dakota House.