Regents must be able to work well together

A series of recent events and revelations belies the common perception that the University’s Board of Regents is a placid, cohesive group; frustration and disagreements within the board seem to be rising. In the near future, the board, along with University President Robert Bruininks, will have to make a series of difficult budget decisions due to the state’s budgetary shortfall. For the sake of all University community members affected by the board’s decisions, it is imperative that the growing dysfunction within the University’s governing body is arrested and that the regents address the difficult decisions that lie ahead as an organized and focused body.

Signs of tension within the board are abundant. Last fall, several regents disagreed with the board’s decision to join the Mount Graham International Observatory program. Also last fall, the board’s student representatives publicly announced they have found it very difficult to comment on issues before the board. As student representative Allison Rhody noted, “We have a lot of stuff to say, and when we don’t get to say it, it’s kind of like ‘Why are we here?’ ” Most recently, three board members have publicly broadcast their frustration with the way the board conducts business.

The current board also compromised its image as a deliberative and open body last fall by deciding to make a meeting to discuss the University presidential search closed to the public – a decision that several Minnesota media organizations, including the Daily, have argued, via a lawsuit, violates the Minnesota Open Meeting law.

Due to the state’s budget crisis, many University departments and offices will face budget cuts in the near future. Higher-than-forecast tuition hikes are also expected because of the state’s budget crunch. Given the Board of Regents, along with Bruininks, will determine what is cut and how much tuition rates are hiked, it is important that the regents mollify their frustrations with each other and the University’s administration and work effectively and collectively. This is not to argue that the board should be cohesive solely for the sake of efficiency; if real differences between points of view on the board exist, they should be discussed thoroughly. However, if the regents are to make deliberate and sound decisions in the near future, everyone involved with the board, including the student representatives, needs to feel comfortable and positive about his or her role on the board. Reducing intra-board frustrations and keeping the communication pipeline between the board and the University community open will increase the likelihood that the University’s uncertain future will be addressed as effectively as possible by the board and Bruininks.