Bridget Burns, one of two student representatives on Oregon’s Board of Higher Education, has been asked to resign from the board by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Kulongoski asked Burns to step down after he was notified that appointing former Republican state representative Tony Van Vliet broke a rule that limits the amount of board members allowed from each university in the Oregon University System.
“She had the least amount of time left to serve,” said James Sager, education policy adviser to Gov. Kulongoski, explaining the governor’s reasoning in asking Burns to leave the board. He said that Burns has been asked to serve on the board as a nonvoting member.
Both Burns and Van Vliet received their bachelor’s degrees from OSU. The two other board members who have also received diplomas from OSU are Gretchen Schuette and board President Henry Lorenzen. A state statute limits the amount of graduates from one university sitting on the board.
“Until I talk to the governor, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Burns said.
Burns has long been known as a powerful voice for students in the university system. As a student at Oregon State University, she secured an increase of $2.2 million in financial aid for low-income students. She was reappointed to her second term in July, which was to expire in 2007. Burns is the board’s second-longest serving member.
The statute, 351.020(1), says that no “more than three graduates or students admitted at any one of these institutions” in the university system “be members of the board at any time.”
Sager said that the governor was unaware of the implications of the law when he appointed Van Vliet.
“What it comes down to is they see it as easier to replace a student than anyone else,” said Melissa Unger, executive director of the Oregon Students Association. “We are really disappointed that she is being asked to leave.”
The OSA, a coalition of the student governments from the university system, sent a letter to the board on Nov. 9 informing them that the group was unhappy with Burns’ potential resignation.
“While we understand that there has been a mistake,” the letter read, “it should not be the de facto position to ask for the resignation of the student to fix the mistake.”
The letter goes on to comment on Burns’ expertise and “understanding of the complexities the Board deals with.” The group said it would accept Burns as “ex officio” while saying that a replacement of her stature will be very hard to find.
State law requires two student representative on the board, so if Burns resigns she will be replaced by another student, this time one from somewhere other than OSU.
“I know it hurts Bridget,” Lorenzen said. “[But] the student’s interests are fully protected.”
Lorenzen, who has been on the OUS board since August 2003, recommended Van Vliet to Kulongoski after the governor had been serving on the board in place of former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, who left the board in the wake of a scandal last year. Lorenzen said that the “senior statesman” would do well on the board.
Whether Burns will give up her position on the board or not has officially been left up to her.
“I want to do what’s right for Oregon,” Burns said. “I just don’t know what that is yet.”