My name is Joe Thiel, and I served as the student member of the Montana University System (MUS) Board of Regents (BOR) from 2011-2013. The authority of the Board is described in the Montana constitution, which states that the BOR “shall have full power, responsibility, and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system and shall supervise and coordinate other public educational institutions assigned by law.” In my opinion, that is monumental. Higher education in Montana, more than nearly any other state, has been given the latitude to self govern. That in turn means that students have a greater ability to participate in higher education governance and influence how our universities work.

The Student Regent position is one demonstration of the important place students hold in the Montana University System. As stated in the BOR Code of Expectations, “the student regent ... is equal to other regents [and] has a first and foremost responsibility to represent students in the Montana University System.” In other words, students have a dedicated representative, a full voting member of the Board of Regents, to advocate for their interests on a host of important topics, from setting tuition, to approving new programs and advocating for higher education to the legislature. That is awesome, and it is a privilege we should all strive to maintain.

This document provides a brief introduction in how I perceive the student regent position, its perks and pitfalls. This is not comprehensive, so if you decide to apply I strongly encourage you to drop me a line. I am always glad to talk.

Student Regenting 101:

I think the Student Regent position is amazing. You work with talented people on interesting topics that have a very real impact on the university system. That being said, there are a couple of catches (as you might guess). It is a lot of work, and you will always face a steep learning curve. To expand on that, consider a couple of figures:

  1. There are 47,000 plus students in the university system on 14 campuses scattered across the state. They probably don’t agree on everything.
  2. Most everyone you will be working with will be older and more experienced than you are.
  3. Your decisions and input have the capacity to have a lasting effect on the trajectory of higher education (no pressure).

If you are one of those people who learned to swim when your older siblings threw you in the deep end, you have some inkling of what being new at the Student Regent position feels like. The Student Regent position is the very deep end. Don’t get me wrong, you will have great support from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) and many others, but there is a lot to learn and right from the beginning people will be listening to your opinions and expecting you to be well informed.

If, however, you learn to swim relatively quickly then the Student Regent position offers incredible benefits. You will be front and center for policy discussions that are interesting and important. You will meet contacts and mentors who really should change your view of the world and might open up many new opportunities. Finally, you will be exposed to a level of decision making that few students see, much less participate in. The Student Regent is not paid, but the experience is well worth what you invest.

The Job Description and the Time Commitment (what you should be doing and how long it takes)

So, I’ve used plenty of platitudes, but what do I actually do? Most of the time, the Student Regent serves a 1-year term, although you can apply for subsequent terms (which I would highly encourage). The typical workload looks like:

  1. BOR Meetings (15-30 hrs before each meeting, 2 days at the meeting)- These occur about every other month, and they are big productions. The Regents (you included) sit around a table and discuss everything under the sun for two days. Your job is to be familiar with the agenda. By familiar I mean that you have read each item and have formed a basic opinion on them. For some items, this might require a phone call or two to learn about the issue in question. I typically spend 15-20 hours getting ready, reading the agenda, making notes and following up with people to make sure I’m ready to present an informed opinion on the subject (please note that this does not always happen).
  2. Continuing Work/Education (5-10 hrs per week) - When a BOR meeting is not imminent work continues. In a typical week you might call in to a conference call with OCHE on a topic of interest, meet with your faculty senate to hear their thoughts and spend a hefty amount of time responding to emails from students, faculty or community members. Once in a while you might take a day or two to travel to another campus to meet their student government and learn about issues particular to that university.
  3. Other Events (1-2 per month) - This is fun, but it is important to emphasize that it is still a part of the job. As a regent you will be invited to graduation ceremonies, receptions, football games, dinners, etc. These events will often be populated by faculty, administrators, legislators and university benefactors. Your job is to get to know these people, talk to them about issues in the university system, and be a good advocate for the MUS.

Overall, you should expect to spend 5-10 hours per week at a minimum working for the Board. This will jump to 15-30 hours before a board meeting. The most challenging part of being the Student Regent is managing school and the workload, mostly because you will miss hefty amounts of class attending meetings. Plan your school load accordingly.

The Application

The basic announcement for the application goes something like this:

Montana Associated Students is accepting Student Regent applications through April 1st. Student Regents should be individuals with diverse leadership experience, a passion for the well being of their peers, and at least one year left of school; undergraduate and graduate students alike are encouraged to apply. Applications must include a cover letter, two letters of recommendation, and a recent resume and must be submitted electronically to mtassociatedstudents@gmail.com. Please direct any questions to Joseph Thiel, current Student Regent, at joseph.thiel1@gmail.com.

That about covers it. Applicants should plan on attending the May BOR meeting for interviews. I would also recommend that you drop by the March meeting to get a feel for how the Board works. The interviews will be fairly simple, consisting of 5-6 standard questions about your experience and what you hope to bring to the position. Montana Associated Students will select three candidates to forward to the Governor for consideration. Those candidates will be interviewed by the Governor’s office (or sometimes the Governor). Soon after the interviews the Governor will name his appointee. If you want advice on how to prepare, please contact me.