Regents alter mission at U

by Nancy Ngo

They’re appearing at University faculty conferences. They’re organizing student participation at the Legislature. And they’re holding forums of their own on distance learning.
It’s all part of the new image the Board of Regents members are trying to present. And by some accounts, it’s a complete turnaround from the tarnished reputation they held just more than a year ago.
“I think certainly they’ve been saying the right things and moving in the right direction,” said Victor Bloomfield, who heads the Faculty Consultative Committee.
Setting goals for the board is a yearly process, but members are putting extra emphasis on making sure that their statements are not just empty rhetoric this time.
In evaluating their performance during the first few months of the academic year, board members say they are pleased with what they describe as an active and changing governance group. However, they still want to improve on things such as organization.
While research and discovery, as well as teaching and learning, are key components of their three-part mission for the University, regents highlighted improvements in outreach and public service.
A draft of their mission statement, discussed and revised at two governance retreats earlier this year, states that regents would make themselves more accessible to the state’s citizens and organizations.
“We’re working together and talking with all our constituencies,” said Regent Jessica Phillips.
She said that the presence of regents has been more apparent in the state’s communities during the past few months.
A technology summit last fall was the highlight of the board’s interaction with various constituents so far this academic year, Phillips added.
And they want other University groups to share in their participative mood. Phillips is currently organizing a group of students to lobby at the state capitol this legislative session.
Regent Patricia Spence is helping to plan a University forum on distance learning slated for March. At the forum, participants will discuss expansion of distance learning programs and enhanced relationships with business.
Both Phillips and Regent Michael O’Keefe also highlighted the board’s internal outreach efforts.
Instead of using their meetings strictly as policy-passing sessions, regents are spending more time evaluating the impacts of policies they’ve already passed.
“Having faculty coming and talking at regents committee meetings is something we’ve wanted, and that’s beginning to happen,” Bloomfield said.
Board members also have been more demanding in what they want to see in policy requests. O’Keefe said regents are asking for more specific information from presenters in addition to proposal drafts.
For example, in the recent discussions about developing new student housing, board members wanted information to evaluate everything from impacts of partnership contracting to location options.
“That’s very different from a presentation just seeking approval,” O’Keefe said.
But part of the improved atmosphere might relate to the magnitude of the issues the board is handling.
“I don’t think there are any divisive issues,” Neel said. In recent years, the board has jumped from one explosive issue to the next, from General College’s fate to a hospital sale to tenure code changes.
Regents aren’t taking all the credit, however. As Neel and O’Keefe are quick to point out, a better relationship with top administrators, especially President Mark Yudof, is key.
And administrators recognize the changing mood. “Every board strikes me as having different dynamics. There seems to be a real effort on the part of the board to work with the president and vice versa,” said Bob Kvavik, an associate vice president. “It seems very much that they’re on the same page.”