Meetings see sparse attendance

Matt Graham

The Board of Regents is the highest branch of government at the University and makes some of the University’s most important decisions – setting tuition, approving the budget and choosing the institution’s president.

Yet few people – especially students – attend the board’s monthly meetings. Approximately 30 people attended the board’s September meeting Friday.

The Board of Regents regularly meets on the Thursday and Friday of the first full week of each month. Individual committees gather on Thursdays; the entire board convenes on Fridays.

While no one keeps track of attendance by the general public at meetings, Richard Pfutzenreuter, University vice president and chief financial officer, said attendance at meetings has been consistent since he came to the University in 1992.

Pfutzenreuter attends nearly every meeting because his post frequently requires him to give presentations to the board and its committees and to serve as a resource regarding the University’s budget.

But he said low attendance at the meetings can sometimes give a deceptive impression of how much attention is paid to the Board of Regents’ actions. Faculty and staff tend to talk about items on the board’s agenda prior to meetings when deciding whether they should attend them.

One example is Thursday’s Educational Planning and Policy Committee meeting, which was packed for a presentation by Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy. When Mulcahy finished talking about research funding, most of the audience dispersed.

But if faculty and staff turnout can be sparse, student attendance is almost nonexistent, with only the student representatives to the Board of Regents typically attending meetings.

One notable exception to this was June’s vote on University realignment, which drew dozens of boisterous General College supporters to protest the school’s closing.

Board Chairman Tony Baraga said he is not surprised people show up for only the bigger issues and compared Board of Regents meetings to committee meetings at the Legislature, which are also sparsely attended unless there’s a major issue.

But Baraga said the student representatives to the board help represent the whole student body.

“We get quite a bit of input from them,” he said.

Tom Zearley, Student representative to the board and former president of the Minnesota Student Association, said students can sometimes be intimidated by the whole process and that there isn’t a lot of opportunity for interaction at meetings.

Zearley said these things can combine to prevent students from attending meetings.

MSA President Emily Serafy-Cox did not go to September’s meetings but said she tries to attend the sessions featuring issues that “pertain to students and student life.”

Serafy-Cox said she thinks it would serve the student body to pay more attention to the major issues at the University, but she said students need to have more options for influencing the process.

Members of student government are discussing how to include students in the Board of Regents selection process, she said. The Legislature and the governor currently pick the regents.

Joshua Colburn, a board student representative and member of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said the University is relatively unique in that it has student representatives to the board and a student, Lakeesha Ransom, serving as a regent. He said that gives students here more sway than elsewhere.

While he said it can be difficult for students to understand the broad issues the board encounters, he would like to see more student involvement and stressed that he and the other student representatives are always willing to take questions and comments.