New legislation may raise diversity of Board of Regents

Story by Carolyn Tiry

A change in the way the UW System Board of Regents are appointed could bring a greater diversity of ideas to the table, a local regent said.

A proposal currently making its way through the Wisconsin state legislature would require the Board to have at least one appointee from each of the eight state congressional districts.

Regent Ed Manydeeds, of Eau Claire, said the proposal has the full approval of the Board, and he believes this change is a good idea. However, the Board has been making strides in that direction in the past several years, as five of the appointees are from northern and western regions of the state.

“But I think that’s a valuable tool,” he said, “to have the communication channels opened up even more than they already are.”

The Board is the governing body of the System and is composed of 18 members, 14 of whom are appointed by the governor to staggered seven-year terms. Two student regents who serve two-year terms are also appointed to the Board. Currently, half of the appointed members are from either Madison or Milwaukee. The only district not currently represented is the sixth.

“You do have to keep in mind that a large percentage of the population of our state is in the southern part of the state,” Manydeeds said, “so it only stands to reason that they’re going to have more representation.”

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich said that though the population does differ from north to south, there are three universities in this area — UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and UW-River Falls — and so it is helpful to be assured geographical representation.

“It’s helpful not because they’re ‘homers,’ in a sense that they’re going to take care of their local universities,” he said, “but they have knowledge about this part of the state — what kind of graduates do we need, what is the economic situation in this part of the state, how are the universities working with other entities? You can’t make policy decisions without having that kind
of insight.”

Student Body Vice President Mark Morgan said he thinks this is a step in the right direction for the Board. However, he is not sure how much impact it will actually have.

“This isn’t the ideal piece of legislation for this,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s still one person appointing a group of
like-minded people.”

The representation for UW-Eau Claire in particular may not change much, Morgan said, because there are already two regents from the third congressional district — Manydeeds and Brent Smith of La Crosse.

While he said Student Senate’s functions and interactions with the Board won’t change because of this, Morgan is glad to see a push to get more representation for every region of the state.

According to an Oct. 7 System press release, Board President Michael Spector said the changes that occurred because of the new budget bill are factors in re-examining the roles of the regents.

“With greater authority vested in the institutions and less in the System office,” he said in the release, “what level of detail should the Board expect on general education matters?”

Manydeeds said that with the individual universities and chancellors receiving greater flexibility from the System, the possible changes to the appointments are welcome.

“If we’re going to be working as a team with chancellors from all different areas of the state,” he said, “then I think the more different voices we have, the better.”

Manydeeds added that he feels that in the end, the people who give up their time with families to serve in an unpaid position have the best interests of everyone in mind.

“Your heart’s in the right place, and if that’s true,” he said, “there’s not going to be a situation where you’re advocating one position or another based upon your political affiliation. You’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of the System and the citizens of the state of Wisconsin.”

The state Senate has already passed the measure, and the Assembly is expected to take it up later this month.