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Bill would change regents

BY EMILY BUSSE | DECEMBER 18, 2009 7:30 AM

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By Christmas, Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said, he will draft a bill that would drastically restructure the state Board of Regents.

The “Regents Reform” bill will include Kaufmann’s three main ideas: putting more student representatives on the board, holding public forums at each state institution prior to a tuition vote, and requiring elections for regents.

Kaufmann’s distaste for the regents’ recent decisions and their handling of the budget crisis prompted him to push these ideas forward, he said.

“This will not solve the problem,” he said. “This will help the problem, help strengthen the future, and send the right message not only to students but to taxpayers.”

But Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said he is not confident Kaufmann’s bill was spawned by the right motives.

“I’m extremely disappointed that Rep. Kaufmann has not worked in a bipartisan fashion to put the bill together,” Jacoby said, noting that the bill’s contents have not been shared with him. “I question whether the true intent is if he’s doing it to improve the universities or to make a political statement, or if it’s just trying to poke somebody in the eye.”

Despite criticism, Kaufmann, a UI graduate, said his proposal to increase the number of student regents is something he’s suggesting “very seriously.” Though students should not make up the majority of the board, he said, even one more student could make a huge difference. The board has one student regent, Greta Johnson, a senior at Iowa State University.

“I’m of the mindset that the people who are affected personally by a problem … passionately advocate for that issue,” Kaufmann said. “More students on the board will bring an entirely different perspective to the university, and I think it’s a perspective that is crucial in higher education.”

Regent Robert Downer, who has served with three student regents during his term, said graduating members cause a high turnover rate and students generally need more time to understand the workings of higher education.

“It causes some difficulties with respect to decision-making, long-range planning, and trying to chart a course that will sustain a long-term vision,” he said, and he doesn’t see a current need for more student voices. “I don’t think there has been a problem with the board knowing students’ views on issues.”

Following the models of boards in states such as Colorado and Michigan, Kaufmann said electing regents instead of having the governor appoint them would result in overall better decision-making and interest in issues. His bill outlines a structure of seven elected seats, two appointed students, and one other appointed member.

“I can almost assure you if the regents were elected, they would be more likely to get more involved in these decisions,” he said.

Downer, who “would not be supportive of elections at all,” said the high cost of campaigning would exclude anyone less than extremely wealthy from running.

UI junior Charles Rose said the appointing process makes for a more adept group.

“I think they’re doing fine having [the governor] pick them,” Rose said. “They will actually be qualified instead of having some Joe Blow run for it.”

Jacoby said doing away with the governor-appointed board would be a waste.

“That’s why people elect the governor — for him to govern,” he said.

Though Jacoby said he agrees with Kaufmann on two of his three points, excluding the elections, he said both have already been suggested and worked on.

“They’re good ideas but nothing new,” Jacoby said.

Kaufmann maintained that not pushing the proposals would be a disservice, especially in light of regent decisions he feels are “disturbing.”

“I’m in a position to say something, and if I don’t, I’m also guilty of not doing the best I can,” he said.


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