Kasich Donors Have Advantage in Public University Trustee Appointments

April 2, 2013

Timothy P. Smucker, Cheryl L. Krueger, and Michael J. Gasser all donated at least $10,000 each to Kasich and were appointed to OSU's Board by him despite having no backgroun in education and no alumnus ties to OSU.Campaign contribution records have revealed that across Ohio, public university Boards of Trustees have been inundated with Governor Kasich’s campaign contributors since he took office in 2011.

Kasich has appointed his own donors at eight out of eleven university boards across the state examined by the Pulse. Of those eight schools, three – including Ohio State – have only received Kasich donors as new board members since 2011.

Kasich’s three donors placed on the OSU board donated a combined total of over $32,000 to his campaign in 2010, with all three giving at least $10,000 each. At the University of Cincinnati, all three Kasich appointees to the university’s board donated a total of over $17,000 to his 2010 campaign, with two of those donors donating over $15,000 more to his 2014 reelection campaign in December 2012.

Under Ohio law, the governor is allowed to appoint trustees to state college and university boards with the approval of the state Senate. Student trustees are also appointed by the governor after a committee at the respective university makes nominations, but those student trustees are barred from voting on board decisions.

The OSU Board has seen its fair share of controversial decisions over the past year. It approved a $1,000-per-year new fee for international students in the fall of 2012, and voted to privatize OSU’s parking system in June 2012. Additionally, the OSU Board has attracted some concern due to only having four female members out of 15 voting members. Only five voting members are OSU alumni and only four have any type of educational background. Currently, appointees of Governors Taft, Strickland and Kasich sit on the Board, with the terms of all four Taft appointees expiring by the end of 2014.

Since all three of Kasich’s new voting members of the OSU Board donated to his campaign, questions have been raised about whether their donor status gave them an unfair advantage over other potential appointees. “I think the whole thing is unethical,” said Kerry Moore, a third-year anthropology student at OSU, “He should look at other qualified people who aren’t his donors, instead of just showing favoritism to donors.”

The university is apparently standing by the trustees, though. “During his term, [Kasich] and his staff have been consultative throughout the board appointment process and his selections have been superb.  All four of his appointees, which do not fall along partisan lines, have been significant contributors and incredibly valuable additions to the board. Their backgrounds, education and experience demonstrate they are superb candidates regardless of any other considerations,” said OSU spokeswoman Gayle Saunders as part of a lengthy email statement on March 27. (Saunder’s statement reflected the reappointment of Alex Shumate, who did not donate to Kasich but had already served on the Board since 2006).

Governor Kasich’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Pressure has been building for student trustees – who are also appointed by the governor – to be granted the right to vote, and state representatives have recently introduced House Bill 111 to allow student trustees the right to vote at every state university. Some proponents of student trustee voting rights, though, also want to see those trustees elected by the student body at their respective university. Last year’s “Reimagine OSU” rally on May 16th and 17th brought attention to the issue, as student protesters petitioned OSU to lobby harder for state law to allow student trustees to vote and be elected by fellow students.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated from the print edition version to reflect the introduction of HB 111, which was discovered after we went to press on March 31.

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