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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Former student body presidents recall KU

August 16, 2003

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Past Kansas University student body presidents came from a wide range on the political spectrum, but they all agreed that the experience of having served continues to affect their lives.

"It shaped a lot of what I am today," said David Awbrey, who was president in 1969-70. "I'm still kind of a '60s person, trying to change the world, trying to make a difference."

Awbrey, a writer and journalist who is editorial page editor for the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, described himself as a radical, left-winger when president. At that time, student protests against the Vietnam War at KU had reached their zenith.

Two years later, in an example of political whiplash, David Miller of Eudora was elected president.

"It was a great experience," said Miller, who later became a state legislator, the godfather of conservative Kansas Republicans, chairman of the state GOP and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

Miller said he didn't want to "toot my horn" about his accomplishments in student government, but Awbrey did.

Awbrey said that Miller served as treasurer when Awbrey was president. "He probably saved my rear end several times. He's a man of high integrity," Awbrey said.

By the 1980s, the fervor of national politics had died down on college campuses.

"They were the preppy years. We were wearing plaid pants," said David Adkins, who was president in 1981-82.

Now a state senator from Leawood, Adkins said one of the big issues during his tenure was that students wanted beer sold at Memorial Stadium during football games.

"That was a major push of many of the campaigns for student government," Adkins said. But after the election, Chancellor Gene Budig pulled Adkins into his office and said, 'Beer in the stadium is not going to happen.'"

Adkins remembers his year as president fondly, saying that often in the Legislature he sees the same "game plans" as when he served in the Student Senate.

His future wife, Lisa, was student body president the next year. "As far as I know we are the only co-habitating, reproducing pair of former student body presidents in captivity," he said.

By the 1990s, student body presidents were coming into office armed with specific goals.

Grey Montgomery, president in 1996-97, said he was fortunate to lead student government during Chancellor Robert Hemenway's second year in office because Hemenway was anxious to push his agenda too.

Montgomery, editor of the Junction City Daily Union, said the organizational and leadership skills he learned in student government have served him well in management.

Kevin Yoder, president in 1998-99, and now a state legislator from Overland Park, urged students to get involved in student government.

"At KU, if you just show up at an event, you are already standing above the crowd," Yoder said.

He said student leaders were no different than those who were not.

"I didn't notice any real specific talent that set them above. It was more of just people who were willing to be dependable and show up and get the job done," he said.

Yoder said his years in the Student Senate seemed more productive than the Legislature.

"Students are more willing to compromise and get work down," he said. "In the Legislature, you have to struggle to get issues moved along."

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