Electing regents wouldn’t solve the fundamental problem


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This year could be transformational for the state Board of Regents.

Amid condemnation from many students, Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is drafting a bill that would make the regents an elected body. But despite our discontent with the regents’ decision to levy a tuition surcharge this semester, we question the soundness of Kaufmann’s proposal.

Kaufmann’s regent plan is similar to the Michigan and Colorado models, in which a majority of the boards is elected. Under the proposal, the regents would be composed of seven elected seats, two appointed students, and one other appointed member.

While Kaufmann contends electing regents would lead to better decisions, there are no major problems with the current process. While we have our disagreements with the regents, we feel they have shown a strong level of competency — one that we believe would not be greatly improved through elections.

Regent Ruth Harkin backs the current system.

“I believe the appointment system has served Iowa well, especially since there are requirements for both political party and gender representation that guide any appointing governor’s selections,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Regent Robert Downer has also come out against Kaufmann’s plan, telling The Daily Iowan in December that he “would not be supportive of elections at all.” He said he’s worried high campaign costs would exclude the non-wealthy from running.

Kaufmann’s proposal seems more like a ploy to make a stance against some of the regents’ contentious decisions rather than a solution to the real problem. The root issue is a lack of funding for state universities — not regent incompetence or elitist insouciance. While we stridently opposed the regents’ vote for a $100 tuition surcharge, we don’t question their intentions.

Because the regents don’t have control over the funding they receive from the state, their job is decidedly technocratic. Budgets, number-crunching, financial decisions — it’s not the type of position that lends itself to political fanfare or campaigning. Indeed, just the thought of a regent barnstorming the state in search of votes seems a bit absurd.

While some of Kaufmann’s other regent-overhaul proposals are laudatory — increasing the number of students on the board is a great idea — this component falls flat. Elections can’t solve the fundamental issue of parsimonious funding. If the excellence of world-class institutions such as the UI are to be maintained, legislators’ priorities need to change. Calling for regent elections merely obscures the funding problem.

In addition, there is already a restriction that prevents Iowa governors from installing more than five of the nine regents who have the same party affiliation. This regulation is effective enough in preventing political bias from overflowing into the regents’ decisions. We don’t feel the board is being threatened by political monopolization.

The basic argument against Kaufmann’s proposal is simple: Don’t fix what’s not broken. While it is their responsibility to find ways to lessen the severity of budget cuts, the causes of the financial constriction the regents face — the moribund economy and lack of funding — are beyond their control. Tasked with a difficult duty, their efficacy would not be enhanced by elections.

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