Three regents cite grievances with University’s board

Kari Petrie

In an unusual show of public discord, three members of the University’s Board of Regents recently highlighted several concerns over the way the board conducts business.

In a letter sent to each board member in December, Regents Frank Berman, Jean Keffeler and Richard McNamara raised several issues regarding their roles on the board, including claims that they had limited access to University administrators, were denied board committee leadership positions and lacked rules for talking to the media.

“We believe we are disabled in some respects in exercising our full capabilities on behalf of the University by some board traditions and practices,” the letter said.

None of the three regents who wrote the letter returned phone calls, and other regents declined to comment.

These allegations contrast with what has been the board’s seemingly cohesive image – one where regents have seen eye to eye on a variety of important University decisions.

The last time regents deviated from that form was in October, when they approved joining the Mount Graham International Observatory program. The board voted 7-2 to purchase a 5 percent share of the telescope, which is located on an Arizona mountain considered sacred by Apache Indians.

The letter said communication with University administrators is sometimes “discouraged or criticized” and also suggested President Robert Bruininks and the board reach an agreement on the best way to access administrators.

Berman, Keffeler and McNamara claim they have been denied access to University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg and Director of Internal Audits Gail Klatt because “the majority of the board had no interest in the information.”

They also identified the University’s recently completed presidential search as another instance where they had limited access to the search consultant.

The letter says opportunities for leadership positions within regent committees are limited to a select number of more “senior” regents. Burman, Keffeler and McNamara – none of whom currently serve as chair or vice chair of a committee – were appointed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2001.

Regent committees approve recommendations submitted by the president, covering such topics as University education planning, policy and facilities.

Concern about regent relationships with the media was also addressed in the letter. Although many regents conduct interviews with the media, Berman, Keffeler and McNamara said they feel the interactions are discouraged. They said when regents speak with the media, any opinions expressed do not always represent those of the entire board.

Time and agenda management issues were also a concern. The three regents said they also feel the board’s and committees’ time needs to be managed more effectively. Too much time is spent on information already received and not enough on updates and annual reports, the letter said.

Given the appointments of Bruininks and new Regent Peter Bell, the three regents said they feel it is appropriate to address these issues.

They requested a special meeting to discuss the board’s governing procedures, but one has not been set, regent officials said.