A bill awaiting the governor's signature would allow University of Illinois students who pay out-of-state tuition to run for student trustee if they have established Illinois residency in other ways.
The measure addresses a dispute that kept a member of the Urbana Plan Commission from running for student trustee in early 2013 because he was still required to pay out-of-state tuition.
"We don't believe in pay to play in the state of Illinois. Today's law corrected that," said Carey Ash, a UI law and graduate student and member of the Urbana Plan Commission.
Legislators on Wednesday gave final approval to House Bill 4284, which revises the criteria for student trustee in the University of Illinois Trustee Act. It would allow any student to run who is a U.S. citizen, has lived in the state for six months, has a valid Illinois driver's license and proof of voter registration.
The act currently requires a student trustee to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average, be a full-time student and be "a resident of this state," but it does not define residency.
Ash, who is originally from Baton Rouge, La., has lived in Urbana year-round for six years, serves on the Urbana Plan Commission and has voted here since 2010.
But he was told by UI administrators in spring 2013 that he was ineligible to run for student trustee because he was not considered a resident for tuition purposes. The campus Student Code and university regulations include additional requirements to establish residency for admission and tuition, including "the intent to reside permanently in Illinois for reasons other than educational objectives."
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. It's unusual for students to qualify for in-state tuition once they've been admitted as nonresidents, UI officials say, unless they take a job here unrelated to their education or their parents move to Illinois.
Ash filed a complaint in Champaign County Circuit Court to prevent the UI from holding the 2013 election. But it went on, Ash waged a write-in campaign, and he came in fourth place.
In May he appeared before Champaign County Circuit Court Judge Mike Jones for permission to file an amended complaint, essentially asking the court to review and reverse the UI's decision. But Jones agreed with the UI that the case was moot because the election was over.
The judge also said he was reluctant to interfere with an internal UI administrative decision unless it was a clear abuse of authority, such as preventing a student from running based on religious preference, politics or gender.
Three student trustees are elected annually to the UI board, one from each campus, and one of them holds an official vote.
The measure approved this week was sponsored by state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and passed overwhelmingly in both houses.
An amendment added in the Senate states that the new residency rules for student trustee elections do not apply to those for tuition purposes, said UI spokesman Tom Hardy. The UI worked with state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, to add that protection and took a neutral stance on the final bill, Hardy said.
"We're fine with it," he said.
Ash, who testified on behalf of the legislation, praised Jakobsson and Frerichs for taking up the issue.
The new rules come too late for Ash, as he plans to leave the university after completing his doctorate in education next fall. He just received his law degree and is studying for his bar exam. He hopes to practice educational law, working to ensure educational opportunities for all students.
"The issue was never about me. I was simply the one it happened to, as a representative of a class of students who deserve to be treated equally," he said.