4 students went to testify in support of SB 211, including Haley Cox, Robert Moore, Molly Baird, and Ali Everts. Here are their comments to the committee:
Hello my name is Haley Cox and I’m here representing myself. I’m a student at Montana State University. Thank you for taking the time to listen to our comments today. I am here in support of the spirit of SB 211. I support this legislation protecting the interests of Montana State University students by ensuring their ability to operate in an educational community free from political exploitation. While I am wary of violating the constitutional firewall between state legislature and the Board of Regents, in particular Article X, Section 9 of the state constitution, I believe Senator Sands has taken important action in regards to gift acceptance policy within the Montana University System.
A comprehensive review of university system gift acceptance and renaming policy is in order, and it’s high time the Board of Regents act. According to the University of Montana’s website, “The Mission of the [MUS] is to serve students through the delivery of high quality, accessible postsecondary educational opportunities, while actively participating in the preservation and advancement of Montana’s economy and society.” Further, it says that “We will protect academic freedom, practice collegiality, encourage diversity, foster economic prosperity, and be accountable, responsive, and accessible to the people of Montana.” I stand firmly behind these values.
Unfortunately, the systematic defunding of our university system by the state legislature over the last three decades have threatened the mission of our campuses. Administrators have been forced to solicit private funding for our public universities to fund an ever increasing need for scholarships and basic improvements to our campus infrastructures.
For example, the recent donation and subsequent renaming of the computer science department after gubernatorial candidate. This event damaged the campus environment, impeding on student’s right to a nonpartisan place of learning. This legislation does not hinder the University’s ability to benefit from fruitful relationships such as this one, but instead provides protection for students through anonymity of gift donors for the duration of their campaigns.
Students, including myself, made clear prior to the approval of the Gianforte School of Computing that the relationship between certain individuals and the Montana University System warranted further consideration before branding their name on a department and auditorium. The Regents failed to address our concerns, instead beholden to capital gain. Montana State University is too valuable an asset — built on public lands with public funds, for the people of Montana — to be used as a vehicle for any candidate for public office. The responsibility to act now falls to this legislature. I sincerely appreciate your commitment to public service, and that you took the time to listen to my comments here today. I welcome questions. Thank you.