As the academic year comes to a close, the UW campus is abuzz with student and administrative politics. A small but greatly impactful part of these politics is the election of the student regent, which partakes in the UW board of regents’ decisions for the 2016-17 academic year. The regents have a number of roles, including overseeing the university’s budget, establishing entrance requirements, and creating new departments.
After a student-led committee narrowed down the application pool to three candidates, the student regent nominees talked with Gov. Jay Inslee’s board of commissions, and submitted new applications, which the governor will use to decide.
While more than 50% of student regents have been women, including current student regent Vanessa Kritzer, this year’s candidates are all men. Now, nominees Scott Spencer, Kiehl Sundt, and Austin Wright-Pettibone play the waiting game.
Wright-Pettibone, an undergraduate chemical engineering student, has an extensive past with the ASUW. Most recently, Wright-Pettibone was one of the representatives advocating for the freeze or lowering of higher-education tuition at the state legislature. He did this through his position as director of the ASUW’s Office of Government Relations.
Wright-Pettibone’s focus for the position stems from this past experience.
“I think I can bring a really strong perspective for the publicly invested conversation in the state,” he said. “If the state decides it doesn’t have the funds to address our K-12 obligations, along with other things, it will have to look into possible cuts in higher education. No one wants that to happen.”
Wright-Pettibone has also been vice chair of the Provost Advisory Committee for Students and university affairs director for the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS).
The nominee said he is also concerned with tri-campus relations and with competitive majors, specifically within the College of Engineering.
“One of the hardest things for any student to hear is that they weren’t accepted into their major,” he said. “How we address the fact that we’re bringing in about 1,000 students, who we have to tell they’re not accepted every year, is going to be key to how we determine access to excellence.”
Should Wright-Pettibone get the position, he would be the first undergraduate student regent in a decade.
Affordability, accessibility, and diversity: Spencer labeled these his focal points should he become student regent.
“Both graduate and undergraduate students are being asked to take on an unprecedented amount of debt,” Spencer said, backing his concentration on public finance in the Evans School. “I’m a big believer of managing our costs rather than managing our budgets per se.”
Although Spencer, a graduate bioethics student, said he hasn’t had any politically charged governmental positions, he was a chair of a committee in the GPSS, and participated in the annual Huskies on the Hill lobbying event.
“Something that I’m really passionate or that I like to do is act as that connector, that liaison,” Spencer said.
He believes the student regent position is an opportunity to combine a position with his passions. He strives to promote the Bothell and Tacoma campuses being considered equally alongside the Seattle campus.
“What really drives me and some of my long-term aspirations is that I find the role of public service really wonderful, because you can move forward other people’s voices who may not have had the opportunity to sit at the table,” Spencer said.
While Sundt couldn’t quite itemize what he’d like to accomplish as student regent, he shared a similar focus with Spencer: He likes connecting people with each other.
“The world’s an unpredictable place and I’m excited to see what opportunities will arise in the next year,” Sundt said. “I’m sure many people have put down a list of what they’d like to address as a student regent, and things end up quite a bit different than they planned.”
Sundt, a graduate law student, works as the co-chair on the Services and Activities Fees Committee, something he called “a more exciting way of saying I like to spend other people’s money.”
Sundt also works at a law firm in Bellevue, but this next year will be his last as a student on campus.
“I thought long and hard about what I’d like that last year on campus to be like,” Sundt said. “I think that drew me to the position. It’s an opportunity to become even more connected to the university in my final year here rather than spending it off campus; I have 30 more years of my career where I can do that full time.”
Sundt sees the student regent role as a unique one in which he can create partnerships and relay information and answers to students who might not otherwise be able to obtain them on their own.