Trustees | Trusteeship

University tensions rise nationally

DES MOINES REGISTER   |  March 16, 2013 by Jens Manuel Krogstad

Battles between boards and the universities they govern are on the rise across the country, national experts say.

The most recent example is last year’s ouster and then reinstatement of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan.

The fact that the Virginia board’s decision came as a surprise demonstrated a failure to govern openly, transparently and with community-wide input, said Greg Scholtz, director of the American Association of University Professors in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t know of any institutions that have operated in a top-down, unilateral way that have been successful,” Scholtz said.

Views differ on how hands-on boards should be in their management.

President Barack Obama is pushing for higher education leaders to increase affordability, value and performance.

To achieve those goals, governing boards must take on a more activist role and push for change, said Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in Washington, D.C. Boards are doing just that in states across the country, including Iowa, she said.

“When you’re trying to move the institution forward, and changing the way things have been done in the past, it’s not surprising that it often upsets those who have grown accustomed to the status quo,” Neal said.

Battles between governing boards and the universities have precedent in Iowa.

In 1993, Regent Marvin Pomerantz lost his Senate reconfirmation bid. Detractors called him an iron-fisted autocrat who had taken the universities in the wrong direction, while supporters praised his decisive leadership at a critical time for the state. Pomerantz was a major contributor to Republican Party candidates.

Former Regents President Michael Gartner was a lightning rod for criticism in 2006 and 2007. He launched a controversial strategic plan and was part of a University of Iowa presidential search committee that aborted its first search. U of I faculty, staff and students later passed no-confidence votes in the regents’ leadership.


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