Actions of the UW System Board of Regents are under close scrutiny following recent massive changes in the system’s financial policy. With cuts in funding to UW, the Board of Regents is forced to prove its worth to both the government and students.
The regents recently imposed a hiring and admissions freeze for all UW schools and approved $300,000 in salary raises last fall, both of which some lawmakers use as evidence to question how well the regents are serving students.
Some lawmakers, such as Committee on Colleges and Universities Chair Rep. Rob Kreibich, R-Eau Claire, say a gap exists between regents and average Wisconsin residents.
“There seems to be a disconnect between what they think is affordable and what my constituents think is affordable,” Kreibich told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “In less than two years, a lot of legislators have lost confidence in their judgment to manage the flexibility we’ve given them.”
Critics allege the board is too white, too male and too rich to represent UW students.
“Their academic situation is much different than the average Wisconsinite,” Matt Fargen, president of the United Council of UW Students said.
The student voice on the Board of Regents said regardless of its political or racial composition, he has always seen the regents to be receptive to student input and classified them as very representative.
“That’s the worst statement anyone could make to the regents,” Student Regent and UW-Whitewater student Tommie Jones said. “My colleagues go to campuses and listen to what students want all the time.”
Fourteen of the 17 Regents are white and 13 are males, with an average age of 57.
The executive salary raises last fall have added fuel to the argument of the legislators, who suggest it is time regents are elected instead of appointed by the governor.
“The board should be democratically elected,” Fargen said. “They should be responsible for the people they serve. Right now they are out of touch.”
This possibility may soon come to pass.
Gov. Scott McCallum told the Journal Sentinel he was “giving thought to” proposing election for the regents.
“I’m shocked that McCallum said that, but he’s seen the decisions people make when they’re not accountable,” Fargen said.
Campaign contributions made by regents have also come under fire by some critics of gubernatorial appointments. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign figures show 12 current regents or their spouses made a total of $63,171 in campaign contributions to Gov. Tommy Thompson since 1993.
Former Student Regent Joe Alexander disagrees with the idea.
“I think the idea of an elected Board of Regents is really bad,” Alexander said. “I don’t think you want the regents to be slaves to whatever the issue of the day may be.”
Other regents concur, saying the idea would tie university decisions with political meddling.
“I don’t think we need to be elected,” Jones said. “I think we know the board of regents works hard for students. We believe in higher education. That’s why we’re here; that’s what we’re doing.”