Montana college students have a new voice with Gov. Steve Bullock’s latest appointment to the Montana University System’s Board of Regents.
Zachary Rogala of Darby will take over as student regent for a one-year term, starting July 1. The position enjoys full voting rights on the board governing public university funding, policy and administration for the state of Montana.
Regents are appointed by the governor and Montana law stipulates one of the seven members must include a fully enrolled student.
“That’s as important a position as any,” said Kevin McRae of the MUS. “Traditionally, the seat is an avenue for student government leaders to communicate.”
Rogala, who will attend the University of Montana School of Law this fall, said he looks forward to serving as the mouthpiece for his peers during a critical period. In coming months, the board will work to establish a new plan for funding universities on performance-based attributes like enrollment.
“That’s a topic that will definitely be going on,” Rogala said. “We need to develop the right metrics to ensure a quality product.”
Voting on whether to include sexual orientation into non-discrimination policies also looms in the future.
Rogala comes into the position with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Montana State University. He served on the student Senate at MSU and recently worked as a legislative assistant for Sen. Max Baucus in Washington, D.C.
The practice will come in handy when navigating the conflicting currents of college politics.
“You have to realize you are the sole representative of over 47,000 students,” said Rogala’s predecessor, Joe Thiel, who served two consecutive terms in the position. “Realistically, you have more constituents than any of our state senators.”
Associated Students of the University of Montana president Asa Hohman said a good student regent should focus on communication. Hohman said Thiel made great strives in facilitating conversations between campus groups and the board at large.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Hohman said. “He has to fill some big shoes in terms of being open and accessible.”
While talk may prove important, the post can also spark action.
Thiel was able to push movement on student-backed concerns like the sexual orientation policy and sustainability. Moreover, the board respected his input.
“I always felt like I was given the same seat at the table,” Thiel said. “It’s really great group of people. They did more than just listen.”
All regents are unpaid, but receive a $50 allocation per work day and room and board when traveling. Time commitments include regular meetings every two months, conference calls, and various duties in the community.
Rogala represents the first student regent from UM since 2006. He said he aims to continue engaging the student body in important discussions and build on the momentum already in place.
And while studying at UM, Rogala said he wants to focus on finance and tax law, subjects that should lend themselves nicely to the path ahead.
“One thing you learn pretty quickly is that things that seem simple are actually really complicated,” Thiel said. “It’s really a huge learning curve.”
Brett Berntsen is a University of Montana journalism student and an intern at the Missoulian. He can be reached at (406) 523-5210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.