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Amendment 12: Universities battle over selecting Board of Governors representation

Legislators say Amendment 12 is on the ballot because of fairness. By creating a council consisting of the student body presidents of all the state universities, this amendment will ensure each school has a chance of sending its student representative to the Florida Board of Governors, supporters say.

But a system is already in place that has the same effect, and the state constitution doesn't need to be changed, opponents of Amendment 12 say.

Under the current system, the president of the Florida Student Association (FSA) -- an advocacy organization for state universities that consists of student body presidents -- serves as the Board of Governor's student representative.

All 11 state universities are currently part of the FSA and can help pick the president, but that wasn't always the case. Florida State University has chosen not to participate in recent years. Some alumni and supporters, including several legislators, said that made the student representative selection process unfair and provided the motivation for a bill that put Amendment 12 on the ballot.

Members of the FSA tried to quell the proposal this spring, first arguing that being a member of their organization was not a prerequisite to getting elected to that Board of Governors seat. Then, FSA took it another step further by waiving the $8,500 fee that schools have to pay to become members.

That means any school could join for free. FSA board member Michael Long said FSU started participating with the organization in May.

Long is the student body president of New College of Florida and served as the Board of Governors' student representative last year. He said Amendment 12 would create a council of student body presidents who could meet once per year to nominate their representative to the Board of Governors then do nothing else. Meanwhile, the collaboration and communication fostered by the FSA would be lost, he said.

"This council has the exact representation as the Florida Student Association, but many of the benefits of the Florida Student Association are gone, so we can no longer hold our representatives responsible," Long.

Although all state universities are now represented on the FSA and have the opportunity to have their student body president selected to serve on the board of governors, support for Amendment 12 remains.

University of Florida student leaders have joined FSU in supporting Amendment 12 and there is now a "YES on Amendment 12" Facebook page.

 Billy Vranish, the director of external affairs for UF's Student Government, said the school is concerned that the FSA's dues system could be reinstated at any time and it also doesn't believe a private organization should be allowed to control a seat on the state's Board of Governors.

The debate on Amendment 12 has also exposed the ongoing political rifts that have at times hampered the effort of FSA to represent all 11 state universities. For example, UF and FSU complained in the past about the FSA dues system that required larger schools to pay more. The organization has also struggled at times to represent the varied, and sometimes conflicting, positions among state universities.