May 28, 2023

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Strong Board of Regents

The way things are going, it’s likely Kansas eventually will end up with a Board of Regents composed of individuals who don’t have much of a record of significant accomplishments, little interest or involvement in elective politics, no strong active ties with the state’s regents institutions, careful not to belong or support controversial organizations and must live in specific areas of the state.

Who knows what new rules, policies or regulations will come along to further weaken the membership and effectiveness of this important body?

Years ago the governor had the authority to appoint individuals he or she thought to be the best qualified person to serve as a regent. However, since then laws or policies have been introduced that require every congressional district to be represented on the board; no more than five of the nine-member board can be of the same political party as the governor. And, if not a firm policy, an understanding there should not be a concentration of alumni of one particular regents school on the board.

Some legislators, regents and/or university officials thought too many Kansas University alumni served as regents and they didn’t like the idea of KU having such a voice in regent activity.

The wisdom or goal of selecting the best possible and best qualified individuals to serve as regents, regardless of where they live, what school they attended or how they voted in the last governor’s race has turned into a wishful dream.

Consequently, the state is a loser.

Those serving as regents have a special, critical responsibility in that they set the stage, create an environment that signals the importance of excellence in our state’s system of higher education.

Unfortunately, politics usually enters the picture with many governors using appointments to this body as a means of paying off political IOUs or to take care of close personal friendships.

The governor, Republican or Democrat, determines the excellence of the regents who, in turn, play a huge role in the overall excellence of the state.

Although their primary focus is on higher education, their actions play a significant role in the state’s K-12 education system.

Those appointed to the board should be individuals who by their personal, business and professional records merit the respect of the public and state legislators….as well as the chancellors and presidents and those in the business of education. Actions and programs endorsed by the regents should, and must, carry a lot of weight with the public (taxpayers) and state legislators.

Likewise, regents must show they are deeply involved, knowledgeable and genuinely concerned with the challenges faced by higher education. Being a regent calls for far more than having your name on a letterhead and being invited to sit with the chancellor or president for a choice seat at a football or basketball game.

A few days ago the regents took another step toward neutralizing the body. Now, regents are asked to police themselves and recuse themselves any time there is any question of a possible conflict of interest. A state legislator recently questioned the reappointment of several current regents pointing out what he thought were conflicts of interest. Good individuals serving as regents know when there might be a conflict and would act accordingly. They don’t have to have a law telling them when they can and can’t vote or express an opinion.

Apparently being a strong and active alumnus of a university, a donor to an athletic or scholarship fund of that school, having a business connection with that school, or giving legal advice to that school all are borderline relationships in the eyes of some and raise the question of conflicts of interest and perhaps disqualify a regent from voting or expressing an opinion about matters relative to that school.

This opens the door to all kinds of actions or maneuvering to reduce or silence the active participation and deliberation of a successful individual or anyone who has strong ties to a university.

This new policy was recommended by regents’ staff members and could be another step toward trying to pack the body with harmless, spineless, out-of-touch individuals who haven’t done much, are afraid to speak up and don’t want to step on toes or make waves.

The state needs a powerful, effective and highly respected Board of Regents. Men and women serving on this board have a tremendous opportunity, as well as responsibility, to influence and shape the excellence of the state’s system of higher education.

This cannot be accomplished without governors making the appointment of regents a top priority and with those serving as regents having the knowledge, experience, honesty, vision and courage to make the right decisions.

Such a board is likely to have a far more positive impact on the public and state legislators and elevate the excellence of the state’s system of higher education.