Iowa regents implement panel to increase schools' transparency


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The state Board of Regents approved a motion at its meeting Wednesday to vote on a proposed transparency task force in March. 

The group, first proposed by Regent President Craig Lang, will be a means to combat transparency issues.

Regents and UI officials see the plan as an improvement.

“What we will be asking as a full board is for a new policy on openness and transparency to comply with Iowa’s law,” Regent President Pro-Tem Bruce Rastetter said.

“I think everyone wants the right outcome but we need to establish an understanding of transparency.”

Lang submitted a proposal outlining a transparency policy for the three regent schools late last month. 

The task force’s first report to the regents will be presented at the June meeting. This group will have nine members, including representatives from the Governor’s Iowa Public Information Board, Iowa Legislature, the regents, and three regent universities. 

Each university president will be in charge of designating the task-force member.

Lang will appoint a head of the task force from the regents.

The three officers at the regent universities will report directly to the regents’ office when an open-record request is submitted, along with having a “dotted-line” connection to the president of their particular university.

The regents are unsure if the positions will be new hirings or employees currently working at the universities.

This proposal followed criticism from the public regarding the lack of transparency at the UI in administrative decisions. This need to diminish opacity stems from Iowa’s Open Records Law — also known as a Sunshine law — that guarantees the public has access to public records of government bodies in Iowa, including the regent universities.

“I think we can always work to become more transparent,” said Mark Braun, the UI interim vice president for Strategic Communication.

“Anything we can do to help the UI or any of the regent universities become more transparent — that’s something we should look to do.”

This past December, UI President Sally Mason was criticized for the UI’s handling of allegations against former Athletics Department adviser Peter Gray, along with a controversy that led to the resignation of the dean of the UI College of Education.

“The number of recent news stories regarding the apparent lack of transparency at regent institutions is troublesome,” Lang said in the proposal.

State officials have reached out to state their concerns with this issue.

“Coming from my situation with the governor as a transparency adviser, the governor was concerned about the apparent lack of transparency on [UI and Iowa State University’s] campuses,” said Bill Monroe, the special adviser for government transparency.  ”There’s a problem if that is allowed to continue.”

Monroe explained a lack of transparency could deter parents from trusting universities with the education of their children. Similarly, this lack of trust would keep contributors from donating and the legislature form funding the schools.

These laws, along with recent controversies, have pushed the regents to create the task force, eliciting positive responses.

“We look forward to seeing what the task force comes up with,” Braun said.

Despite UI officials’ confidence, Monroe remains reserved with the latest step to improve regent university trust with the public, urging the board to fix a possibly broken relationship.

“I understand people make mistakes,” he said.  ”But I expect from any university, if someone makes a mistake — it’s a human thing to do — you say, ‘It’s a problem, and we’re going to do everything in our power to fix it.’ The more you can tell people about that process, the more people trust you.”

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