Education committee approves HB 1692
By ADAM J. BABINAT
The state of New Hampshire is currently looking to restructure the University System of New Hampshire with a new bill known as HB 1692. The bill, which was cleared by the New Hampshire Education Committee at a hearing on Tuesday in Concord, would remove the Chancellor position in the USNH as well as trimming down the total number of trustees from USNH Board of Trustees from 27 to 21. The cuts to the trustees would include eliminating one of the two student trustees, meaning that UNH would only have representation once every four years.
This is a crucial bill for the university system, as the changes made in HB 1692 would affect all four of the member institutions in a variety of ways. According to UNH's student trustee, Kurt Eddins, these are changes that could potentially lead to a negative impact on not just the University of New Hampshire, but also the USNH as a whole.
With the current state of higher education, changes will need to be made at all levels of the university system. However, one of the problems that the USNH Board of Trustees has with this current piece of legislation is the lack of cooperation lawmakers have had with them.
"When the bill came out it sort of jolted us a little bit, because we were already in the mindset of what do we need to change and then the bill comes out. Now we are sort of in a place where we are talking about making change, but also surviving," Eddins said. "We are a product of the legislature, they can take us away at any time they want to."
This looming possibility has made this issue more complicated, especially as the USNH Board of Trustees knew early on during the fall semester that things would need to change due to the current state of higher education. Back in October 2011, the USNH board met and passed a motion that has allowed the chancellor and the administrative board to review the current state of the university system. It was the hope of the USNH Board of Trustees that the state would allow for them to make these structural changes internally.
"We felt that when the bill came out, trying to make these changes for us, that wasn't the best way to do it because we have sort of developed this process of internally being able to find out which things are working and which aren't,"Eddins said.
Unfortunately this bill would force that process to be accelerated, which could lead to one of the biggest issues withHB 1692, the removal of one of the two student trustees. This would only allow the schools one student representative once every four years. According to Eddins, this is a problem for a number of different reasons.
"The biggest thing about all the trustees now coming from different places are they add perspective to the meetings,"Eddins said. "People ask me questions in meetings to get a student perspective on how things are going that they don't know are going on, and I have to ask them questions about things like benefits, things I don't know a whole lot about, so that the whole board's educated when they make votes. So by not having student representation on the board you are taking away that perspective, which I think is the biggest thing."
Eddins also went on to mention how big of an impact a bill such as HB 1692 would have on the University of New Hampshire. UNH, being the largest member of the university system, has needs that other members of the university system do not have; therefore, limiting the amount of representation for UNH could have a negative impact on the university.
"Including UNH people on the board and in that decision making process is crucial to maintaining what's in the best interests for UNH because they're the most in tune with how UNH works as opposed to governor appointees who didn't go to UNH," Eddins said. "Obviously people that sort of live and breath UNH have a different way of thinking about what is best for UNH and how that fits into the bigger picture of USNH."