Ash case’s dismissal does not mean ‘case dismissed’

Months after the student trustee election in March, an Illinois court handed Carey Ash, graduate student in law and Ph.D. candidate, a disfavorable ruling.

In the spring, The Daily Illini Editorial Board endorsed Ash as a write-in candidate for student trustee, although he was not eligible to be on the ballot because of his lack of in-state residency requirements. According to state law, the student trustee must be an Illinois resident, which Ash has spent months trying to prove.

The judge dismissed the case as moot because now that the student body chose Mike Cunningham, senior in LAS, the election can not be undone. The legal counsel for Kenneth Ballom, dean of students and defendant in the case, argued that because evidence of repeat violations does not exist nor is it pursuant of public interest, the case should be dismissed.

That’s where the defense was wrong. This is in the interest of the public because, especially as the University continues its diversification efforts of pulling in more out-of-state and international students, issues of eligibility will likely arise again.

Ballom decided before the election that Ash did not meet the requirements for Illinois residency, which disqualified him from fairly campaigning for the top student position in the University of Illinois system. As a last ditch attempt, Ash began a write-in campaign. Had it been successful, he may have had more traction in arguing his case last week.

Ash’s knowledge of and experience on this campus more than qualified him for the position, but the extenuating residency requirement made all of that null. The student trustee casts votes on decisions regarding the University’s roughly $5 billion budget and other important issues, and an in-state resident by no means makes one candidate more qualified to make such decisions than an out-of-state resident.

Cunningham will remain in his position, but the residency provision of the state law cannot. The case’s dismissal does not lessen its significance, and it should be a message to state lawmakers that the law no longer fits within the mission of the University system, but especially on the Urbana campus. With the law unchanged, it precludes equal representation of the student body.

As the Board of Trustees navigates the complexity of the exorbitant amount of debt the University has and its continually downgraded credit rating, an out-of-state or international voice could guide the University. But maybe it’s not: We won’t know because right now, the student body has no opportunity to decide.

Ash could establish residency before the 2014 election and run as an in-state resident, but, even so, the unfair law would remain. No trustee candidate should have to prove residency because being a student at and of the University is the foremost qualification.