URBANA — University of Illinois graduate student Carey Ash is a member of the Urbana Plan Commission and has lived year-round in Illinois for five years.
But he was ruled ineligible to run for UI student trustee in this week's campus elections because the university does not consider him an Illinois resident.
Ash's name was not certified for the ballot, but he has continued to run as a write-in candidate and plans to pursue a legal challenge to the university's decision.
Ash, 26, who is originally from Louisiana, said he was told by Dean of Students Ken Ballom on Feb. 25 that he did not meet the eligibility requirements for student trustee because he was not considered a resident for tuition purposes.
The state's University of Illinois Trustees Act requires a student trustee to be "a resident of this State," maintain a grade point average equivalent to at least a 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, and be a full-time student during his or her term of office, except for summer session.
Ash, who is both a law student and doctoral student in education policy, organization and leadership, said he has leased the same Urbana apartment for five years, votes and pays taxes here, and is a full-time student with a 3.1 GPA in law and a 4.0 in education.
But the campus Student Code and universitywide regulations include additional requirements to establish residency for the purposes of admission and tuition, including "the intent to reside permanently in Illinois for reasons other than educational objectives." The code states that "a person who is an Illinois resident for tax or voting purposes, for example, is not necessarily a resident for University of Illinois tuition and admission purposes."
To qualify for in-state tuition, students have to maintain "bona fide residency" in Illinois for at least one calendar year before applying to the UI or before starting classes for the term in question. Proof of "bona fide" residency can be continuous physical presence in the state, voting or registering to vote in Illinois, having an Illinois driver's license and car registration, financial independence through outside employment, or leasing a home and paying utilities in the state.
It's unusual for students to qualify for in-state tuition once they've been admitted as non-residents, UI officials say, unless they take a job here unrelated to their education or their parents move to Illinois.
Ash argues that tuition and fees are not mentioned in the state law on trustee criteria, and the regulations govern two separate things.
"I do live in the state of Illinois and I still pay out-of-state tuition. Those two things are not mutually exclusive," he said.
The General Assembly saw fit to allow any student who lives in Illinois long enough to establish basic residency to serve as a trustee, he argued.
"The university is applying tuition and fee criteria to a candidate's eligibility under state law," he said.
"This is about dollars and cents. Unfortunately it doesn't make sense," he said.
Ballom declined to discuss Ash's case directly, as it involves personal information that the student submitted.
Ballom said his office makes determinations on eligibility for all student candidates in conjunction with other offices across campus, including the registrar. Decisions are based on a combination of state and university requirements and information supplied by the candidates themselves showing proof of residency, intent to remain in the state and ability to support themselves, he said.
The burden rests with the student to prove eligibility, he said.
"It's an individualized assessment. Some meet that requirement and others do not," he said.
Among other documents Ash submitted was a letter from the Urbana Plan Commission saying he had to be a state resident in order to serve on the panel.
Law student Adam Joines, head of the Campus Student Election Commission, said Ash met all other qualifications to be on the ballot, turning in the required 150 student signatures and other candidate forms.
"But for the residency issue, we would have certified him as a candidate for student trustee," Joines said.
Ash planned to continue his write-in candidacy through the end of the student online voting period Wednesday night and pursue a challenge to the ruling.
"This isn't about me. It's for any student, any resident of the state of Illinois who wants to make sure the university is the best it can be," he said.