Regents discuss changing role, relationship with new leaders

Chris Vetter

The Board of Regents retreated from Morrill Hall Wednesday morning to the plush confines of the St. Paul College Club to discuss the proper role of the University’s governing body and its relationship with President-designate Mark Yudof.
“This is a relationship that is new and unique,” Regent David Metzen said of the bond that will be forged between the board and Yudof. This closer relationship should ease Yudof’s first few months as president. “I am struck by the hours and demands on (Yudof’s) time. He should have a good feel for what we want, so he’s not guessing,” he said.
Regents said they want to provide Yudof with an idea of the board’s desired goals before he takes over on July 1. Yudof will meet with the new Board of Regents Chairman William Hogan II and Vice Chairwoman Patricia Spence on Monday to discuss their relationship.
Several regents took turns during a brainstorming session to state their goals for the University.
“Building faculty and staff trust,” Hogan said.
“Keep access and affordability in balance,” said Regent Tom Reagan.
The board, which faculty and the public have sometimes perceived in recent years as intrusive and micromanaging in University affairs, also discussed changing its role. The president and administration would then have more freedom to run the University.
Hogan, who will assume leadership of the regents in July, has some ideas about ways to improve the board.
“We on the board want to change some of the processes to serve the public better,” Hogan said. These include reducing paperwork, working more effectively with the president and having shorter but more in-depth meetings.
New Regent Michael O’Keefe said the board is shifting away from micromanaging the University.
Regents discussed how the chairman should be the board’s speaker, while the president should speak for the University as a whole. The chair should not become a policy leader or spokesman for the University. However, a balance between the two positions is not easy to find, Hogan said.
“I’m not sure if you can write a law for the balance between the board and the president,” Hogan said. “I guess you use common sense and good judgment.”
University presidents and their administrations create University policy. The board then discusses and approves or rejects those policies.
Most regents said they want the president to bring several policies to the table for them to choose from.
“The administration has a responsibility to bring options to us,” Spence said.
The regents are expecting Yudof to be a more pro-active leader who will push for quicker passage of proposals and less review by the regents. One of Yudof’s proposed changes includes a docket, where every new policy would be placed. The regents would have to pull items they disagree with off the docket and discuss the individual item. This plan would differ from the current situation, where regents review each individual item. This new plan is geared to speed up the governing process and allow the regents to spend less time on smaller University issues.
Although the regents are trying to cut down on wasted time, they also stated that they want the University to decrease time spent dealing with the board. One regent noted that the administration takes two weeks of planning for an upcoming regent meeting.
The administration might be working too hard on finding answers to questions the regents ask of them, said Regent Maureen Reed.
“As a new member, it’s amazing to me, how one question can spin four people into work for five hours,” Reed said.
The members discussed a variety of solutions to this problem, such as asking regents to use self-control, and not asking questions, or to give the president the right to refuse to search for the answer to a question because it would take too many hours of staff time.
The regents also discussed some of their concerns about things they disapprove of at the University. One concern the regents addressed was professors and deans of University departments who lobby at the Capitol for interests opposed to the University.
“The administration needs to be advancing the University’s ideas,” Hogan said.
The board discussed reprimanding educators who lobby against the University.
Another issue the board covered is how the University must do a better job of getting legislators to visit campus so they can learn more about what the University does.
“The only time we can get the governor to come to campus is for a basketball game, and the only time the legislators come is to visit our hospital when they are sick,” Regent William Peterson said.
The House Higher Education Committee did tour the Twin Cities campus earlier this year, but the Senate committee did not.
The regents may hold more one-day retreats in the fall.