Regents’ purpose remains unchanged through the years

by Heather Fors

The University Board of Regents, 12 people who serve as the school’s governing body, predates even the physical being of the institution. But the role of these movers and shakers hasn’t changed much over the years.
Charged with enacting institutional laws for the University, regulating tuition, as well as managing and controlling school lands, the regents carry on a 147-year tradition.
Every major policy, every building’s reconstruction, every substantial financial transaction is voted on by the board.
Regent Bill Peterson said providing University access to everybody, making tuition affordable and giving a high-quality education to students are just the normal duties of a regent.
Community input plays a large part of doing the job. Peterson said he never goes a day without receiving about five or six calls, e-mails or letters about various issues.
If the requests are within the powers of the regents, Peterson said they do all they can to come through for those concerned.
Of the 12 positions, the most controversial in recent years is that of the student regent. The position, now held by Regent Jessica Phillips, has only been designated for the last two decades.
The student regent is the only position on the board that has a specific prerequisite for selection, said Gregg Orwoll, a vice president of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council.
Unlike some other universities around the country with similar positions, the student regent has the same responsibilities and privileges as the other regents — including the power to vote.
“When you’re treated like a full member as a student, you act like a full member,” Phillips said. She said people act and vote differently depending on the way they’re treated.
There has also been some debate as to whether the student regent’s term should last the same six-year period as the others’.
While it’s almost inevitable that the student will have graduated by the end of their term, the question of whether they can still address the student body’s concerns has been an issue.
But at the same time, can a regent really be effective as a “short-termer?” queried Tom Swain, former vice president of Institutional Relations.
Peterson said a student regent has a leg up on the non-student members of the board because while other regents have to get used to the University system; students are already familiar with it.
But Phillips said she likes that the University has both a student regent and student representatives to the board.
“It really shows a shared governance,” she said.