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Expert: Too soon for Iowa Legislature bill on regent transparency

BY STACEY MURRAY | FEBRUARY 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Legislature is taking up a bill that will call for more transparency from the state Board of Regents. This bill follows the regents’ work with the same issue at the university level.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, proposed a bill for regent transparency, titled the Regents Accountability and Transparency Act.

Highlights of the bill include a proposal that would cause the regents to go to public readings of projects costing $100,000 or more prior to any work on the project. The bill also includes adding public forums each quarter, with 30 minutes of public commentary at the beginning of the meeting.

Bill Monroe, a special adviser for government transparency, said the legislation might have come too early.

“Right now, the regents proactively decided they want to take two historic steps toward ensuring transparency exists on campuses,” he said. “I would suggest on that legislation to wait and see how the proactive efforts work.”

The bill follows controversy with Iowa State University’s Harkin Institute being scrutinized for alleged academic infringement after Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he wouldn’t donate papers from roughly 40 years of Congress because of concerns regarding academic restrictions.

Regent Bruce Rastetter has more recently gone under fire after he reached out to University of Iowa President Sally Mason regarding a UI professor’s research.

The regents’ Feb. 6 meeting addressed concerns at a university level with transparency.

The regents took the first step toward a nine-person task force at its Feb. 6 meeting. The panel would work with the presidents of the three universities, along with the regents, to ensure transparency among the entities. The first report of the task force will be presented at the June meeting.

“The number of recent news stories regarding the apparent lack of transparency at regent institutions is troublesome,” Regent President Craig Lang said in the task-force proposal.
However, some believe the regents have taken initiatives towards increasing transparency.

“Obviously, the board is in a process of studying up on transparency,” Regent Nicole Carroll said. “The board is taking the lead on that issue with the task force, but I’m not going to say the Legislature can’t do what it wants.”

Mark Braun, the UI interim vice president for Strategic Communications, said university officials would support any work that can be done to increase transparency.

Monroe said legislation could be a suitable course of action if current plans, like the task-force proposal, prove unsuccessful.

“It seems the group that is being targeted is already working on transparency,” he said. “I say, let them try, and if they’re not successful, then legislation was probably a good idea.”


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