Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Advising Iowa's Regents

June 26, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Explaining Universities' Benefits to All Iowans

Since April of this year, the Press-Citizen has run an occasional feature it calls "On the Same Page," for which it asks a number of contributors to offer a response to the same question and then runs their answers online. On June 8, following Governor Branstad's appointment of two new Regents to the Board of Regents (governing Iowa's public universities), I was invited to participate by submitting “a short column providing advice for the newly appointed regents for how to be effective in their new role.”

My submission, and for completeness the responses of the others as well, are reproduced below.

Regents' Multi-Million-Dollar Unused Asset
Nicholas Johnson
"On the Same Page," Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, June 8, 2013

The request was for “a short column providing advice for the newly appointed regents for how to be effective in their new role.”

It’s not that I haven’t studied, experienced, and written about board governance — visit It’s that, given these regents’ experience, they are hopefully already seeped in the governance literature.

So instead, here’s some free advice, worth every penny, regarding regents’ effectiveness with a major substantive challenge.

When I was a member of the University of California, Berkeley, Law School faculty, public higher education meant near-free college education for students at a University of California, a California State University, or California Community College. The state’s percentage of post-high school educated was almost twice Iowa’s.

This was not unrelated to California’s rapidly growing economy — then among the world’s top seven, had California been a country.

Roughly three-fourths of Iowa’s adults do not have a college degree. It’s understandable that they would have little interest in, and less understanding of, the importance of our public universities to every resident.

One of our public universities’ greatest challenges is helping every Iowan, including legislators, understand the bargain represented by public support for education. As the bumper sticker has it, “If you think education is expensive, try paying for ignorance.”

Ironically, the regents control a statewide multi-million-dollar media network that is used almost not at all for this purpose: Iowa Public Radio (which the regents just acknowledged is a governmental institution).

I’m not suggesting the regents’ stations broadcast nothing but classroom lectures. But the schools have a half-dozen or more stories every week, distributed to, but seldom used by, the mainstream media, that could help build public understanding. Some could be one-minute items during program breaks; others five-minute radio news segments or entire programs.

Iowa’s distinguished Professor Jerald L. Schnoor has been doing this. But he had to find a network of 200 commercial stations to carry his programs, rather than IPR.

Ideally, I’d like to see program series teaming local officials with university experts on such things as local water quality, flooding, tourism, K-12 education, healthcare delivery — whatever Iowa’s communities would find most helpful.

There are lots more programming ideas in “Self Help for a Helpful University,”, and its links.

As a former FCC commissioner, I can assure you regents that when the FCC gave you broadcast licenses we assumed you knew they were only available for “educational” purposes.
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains and


To adapt successfully, we must work together
Kenneth G. Brown

My advice to the new members of the Iowa state Board of Regents is no different than it would be to any new member of a governing board. In fact, as I write this I recall back to a board retreat I ran a few years ago. I recall looking across a conference table and beginning with “thank you.”

Serving on boards is time-consuming and often thankless work, but it is critical to the long-term well-being of the organization, so it made sense to begin with sincere appreciation.

With that as a foundation, we sat around a table and discussed what we were there to do as an organization, who we wanted to be in the future, and what we faced as opportunities and threats. To contribute to these discussions, board members had to understand the organization and the industry, including the history, traditions and competitive dynamics.

So we spent time talking about the past as well as the future and talking about our peers and competitors as well as our own organization.

As I imagine the transition of our newest regents, I am daunted by all there is to learn.

Most of us know universities from one or two particular perspectives, having been a student, employee or community partner with, perhaps, one of the universities. But we are a system of large, complex public institutions.

Back in 1963, the president of the University of California system, Clark Kerr, coined the term “multiversity” to reflect the complex and often competing interests faced by universities. This term is accurate here in Iowa, as each institution is multi-faceted and complex. Although each faces some of the same pressures, each has different peers, competitors and strategies that will ensure continued success.

Everything you read today confirms that this is a time of profound change in higher education, and it is clear that our institutions must adapt. But to adapt successfully, we must work together — regents and institutional leaders — to better understand who we are and who we want to be. And we must find a way to honor traditions while pursuing thoughtful and deliberate change that may look quite different at each institution.

And speaking directly to our new regents, let me return to the foundation for the important work that is to come — thank you for being so generous with your time, energy and talents.

Kenneth G. Brown is a professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa.

Teach students, universities to be more engaged in their communities
Charles Connerly

We live in a time in which people are suspicious of public institutions. Public universities are no exception. As tuition and other fees rise in public universities, the public increasingly sees them as overpriced. As costs increase, questions arise as to whether universities continue to play a leveling role or instead have become a divider of haves and have-nots. As faculty at research universities have become increasingly specialized, the value of their work seems to many to be remote.

How should the Iowa state Board of Regents respond to increasing skepticism of public universities?

One approach, already underway at Iowa’s regent universities, is a growing role for public and community engagement, particularly through the many classes our students take. By engaging students through their courses in our cities and towns, university faculty provide an important learning opportunity for students — one that requires them to apply their ideas and creativity to real problems that affect real people.

Moreover, as our cities and towns face challenges with economic development, environmental protection and the enabling of equal opportunity for all their residents, the need for new and creative ideas is paramount. Iowa cities and towns have limited professional staff who are kept quite busy by the demands of their daily workload. By encouraging regent universities to teach classes that engage students in solving the problems of Iowa’s cities and town, the board will not only enhance the quality of education in Iowa’s public universities, it will also be providing a direct service to Iowa’s communities.

An example of this is provided by a recent student project in Dubuque where, under the auspices of the University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), seven School of Urban and Regional Planning students developed a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of a 33-acre segment of Dubuque’s Mississippi River port.

Through IISC, other students in classes from business, library and information science, engineering, public health, geoscience as well as journalism and mass communication are working to design community improvement projects in Muscatine, Cedar Rapids and Washington. Besides IISC, there are many other examples of student-centered community engagement at Iowa’s public universities.

By encouraging and supporting the state’s public universities to take their students and their courses to the public, the regents can go a long way towards enhancing the quality of education, improving our communities and shoring up public support for higher education.

And when citizens from throughout the state tell their legislators of the wonderful things the universities and their students have done for their communities, then legislative support for higher education can only increase.

Charles Connerly is the director of the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Improving the quality of life for the citizens of Iowa
Peter Damiano

The Public Policy Center is one of many units within the University of Iowa whose primary goal is to help improve the quality of life for the citizens of Iowa. Many do it through educating our students and preparing our community leaders of tomorrow-be they health care providers, lawyers, teachers, artists, engineers or social workers. The center (and many other units as well) contribute to the vitality of the state by conducting externally funded academic research to inform Iowa policymakers and the public about the most pressing problems facing the state.

The Public Policy Center researchers work daily with state government agencies to collaboratively conduct research so they have information on which they can make better decisions. Current research involves the Iowa departments of human services, public health, transportation and the attorney general’s office on topics from the housing mortgage crisis, to teen driving safety to air quality to transportation financing to health care access and quality. These activities directly touch the lives of citizens in every county in the state, often quietly and behind the scenes.

We also bring UI experts to the Statehouse during the legislative session for a “Lunch and Learn” series on topics from education reform to mental health redesign. We routinely invite policymakers and the public to learn and engage in civil discourse on important topics such as the subprime mortgage crisis or hear national and international experts speak, all the while educating and supporting students as a part of these activities.

Many other departments and colleges are equally committed to this same mission. The Iowa Flood Center within IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering is mapping every watershed in the state and providing local communities for the first time with accurate data upon which they can make educated decisions about flood mitigation and disaster preparedness, with critical support from the legislature. The School of Urban and Regional Planning has numerous projects in communities such as Dubuque, using students to help provide valuable data on issues from housing to transportation. The College of Public Health is actively engaged in health promotion and disease prevention studies to improve the health of communities throughout the state.

The extra efforts needed to involve policymakers and engage the public in academic activities happens because UI faculty, staff and students are passionate that the best way to improve the quality of life in the state we love is through better information and vibrant conversation, of which UI is central.

Peter Damiano is director of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center.

Ensure the educational excellence of Iowa's public universities
Bob Dvorsky

Here are the areas on which I believe any new regent needs to concentrate:

• Transparency for the regent schools and for the board.

• Special schools need to be paid attention to and strengthened.

• The University of Northern Iowa needs to be supported well, and its unique role as the third school needs to be enhanced.

• Move forward with a comprehensive study of the “three schools,” highlighting their strengths, similarities and differences.

• Probably the most important issue in the near future is to make sure University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is prepared to move forward with the Affordable Care Act and the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan.

• Careful consideration of the views of the regent’s constituencies — students, staff, faculty and alumni.

• Work on translating the regents’ needs to the Iowa Legislature and the governor’s office.

The learning curve for a regent is steep, but the Iowa state Board of Regents is the governing body of a proud and storied tradition of educational excellence in Iowa’s public universities.

All regents must be prepared to carry on that historic tradition.

Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, serves in the Iowa Senate.

Nurture universities; don't micro-manage them
N. William Hines

I was in Minnesota this week and happened to watch a Minnesota Public Television documentary on the life of former Minnesota Gov. Elmer Anderson. Anderson served only one two-year term as governor in the early 1960s, yet his reputation as a public servant was so revered that the University of Minnesota named its library in his honor.

The civic leadership that earned Anderson this great respect was his many years as president of the Minnesota Board of Regents. When asked once what advice he would give new members of the regents, Anderson quickly responded, “I would urge them to nurture the university, and not try to micro-manage it.”

Excellent advice, in my opinion.

As a long-serving collegiate dean, I had the privilege of participating in the searches for four University of Iowa presidents. I always felt confident in assuring presidential candidates in those searches that they would thrive professionally at UI for three reasons:

• First, Iowans traditionally held their public universities in the highest esteem and supported them.

• Second, the Iowa state Board of Regents operated above petty politics and exercised its authority exclusively to improve the quality of the higher education students received at Iowa’s three public universities.

• Third, the Iowa regents respected and strenuously supported the campus decisions of the university leaders they selected.

I regret that I could not in good conscience have given those same positive assurances about the Iowa Board of Regents during the past 10 years. I know that many on the UI campus share this troubling observation and find it worrisome for the future of Iowa’s public universities.

My hope for the new regents is that they will embrace Gov. Anderson’s sage advice and will seek to return the Board of Regents to the longstanding Iowa tradition of nurturing the universities they oversee without trying to micro-manage them and to trusting university leaders to make the right decisions for their campuses without the issuance of marching orders from on high.

N. William Hines is a professor and dean emeritus of the University of Iowa College of Law.

Regents should serve all Iowans - regardless of age
Brian Kaskie

Certainly the newly appointed members should strive to uphold the mission and vision of the Iowa state Board of Regents as outlined in the most recent strategic plan. However, as I read these statements from the perspective of someone who is most concerned with advancing the health and independence of older Iowans, there are a few points that caught my attention.

• The first has to do with providing high-quality and accessible education to students. In particular, I would hope the new members of the board would embrace the notion that aging Iowans should be considered students as well (we like to call them lifelong learners), and not all students necessarily need to be enrolled in formal degree programs in order to participate in the world class educational opportunities offered across the regent institutions.

Indeed, since 2009, the Center on Aging has administered the Lifetime Enrichment Adult Program (aka, UI LEAP) which provides all adult learners an opportunity to attend lectures and workshops provided by many faculty and local experts, and in which they can learn about more about their own health, how to maintain their independence as they grow older, or just about anything else.

This program has been booming in recent years and more than 1,200 adults enrolled in UI LEAP courses just in the past year. Besides providing adult learners opportunities for intellectual stimulation, social engagement, and physical activity, this sort of educational programming meets an important objective in increasing the health literacy among our state’s aging population.

Indeed, while Iowa is ranked among the older state’s in the country, we do not rank as well in terms of how well educated our aging population is in regard to many important health and financial issues.

• A second part of the Board of Regents’ mission that caught my attention had to do with supporting activities that enhance the quality of life for Iowans.

In this regard, I would hope the new members of the board would embrace the notion that all Iowans include aging Iowans and our state’s aging population would benefit from continued efforts to enhance the provision of geriatric care.

In 2009, the Center on Aging submitted a report to the board that identified several ways the regent institutions could accomplish this. While several important steps have been taken since that time, there are still many left in front of us. This is no time to stop taking deliberate steps to advance the health and independence of our booming population of persons over 65.

In making these wishes, I am not asking the new members to think of this as some sort of new charge or distraction from current activities.

Rather I am hopeful that they embrace the notion that our educational institutions truly are meant to serve all Iowans, regardless of race, color, religion or age.

Brian Kaskie is associate director of public policy at the University of Iowa’s Center on Aging.

Encourage collaboration among the arts, social sciences, sciences and humanities
Teresa Mangum

First, welcome! I’m grateful to those willing to commit their time to supporting Iowa’s public universities.

As the director of a center that supports faculty research and innovative collaborations and as a faculty member who teaches literature and women’s studies, I see daily how strongly our students and state benefit from a university devoted to the liberal arts as well as the sciences. We all understand the importance of supporting business and STEM fields. But the best ideas grow out of collaborations that bring together the arts, social sciences, sciences and humanities — the world’s literatures and languages, anthropology, history, music, theater, philosophy, religious studies and more.

Let me offer an example being developed by one of the Obermann Center’s many Working Groups. To slow deforestation in northern India, one of our engineers provided solar cookers to women in a village, only to learn they weren’t being used. A feminist anthropologist on campus immediately asked — “Did you talk with the women? Did you go with them on their daily trek for wood?” Like any good humanities scholar, she knew that the first step in successfully addressing an issue is to understand the history, culture and ways of seeing the world that shape communities. Now they and a group of students will go to India together. Working with the village’s women, they hope to find innovative solutions that sustain both the forest and local culture.

In another case, professors of nursing and music created a music therapy program to help teenagers cope with a common, profoundly painful spinal surgery. This marriage of science and the arts is helping Iowa kids and their families endure a grueling medical process by giving them access to the powerful and lifelong resources of creativity, beauty, and the imagination.

I hope the new regents will help us to maintain the University of Iowa’s unique balance among fields that address practical needs and those, like the arts and humanities, that help us understand the diverse stories, histories, values, fears and hopes that can keep us apart or sustain us as Iowans and world citizens.

I also warmly welcome all of the regents to join arts and humanities faculty members from the UI, Iowa State University, Drake and Grinnell at the April 11-12, 2014, Iowa Humanities Festival in Des Moines. With our partners at the Salisbury House and Gardens, the Des Moines Art Center and Humanities Iowa, we look forward to building on the success of last year’s inaugural festival.

We hope to see you all there!

Teresa Mangum is the director of the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

Iowa moving in wrong direction on higher ed funding
Tom Mortenson

Iowa and its three great universities are involved in a death spiral, diminishing the welfare of both parties.

The state has been disinvesting in higher education since 2001, and — to survive — our universities have been turning away from serving Iowans in pursuit of alternative revenues to offset this loss of state support.

In FY2013 Iowa appropriated $6.25 per $1,000 of state personal income for higher education. This was down from $11.42 in 2001 and represents the weakest state investment effort in higher education ever in data first compiled in 1961.

At a time when higher education is more important than ever to economic growth, development and human welfare, Iowa has turned sharply away from investing in higher education. In fact, if the current trends continue, Iowa will become the second state to zero-out state financial support for higher education — reaching that ignominious goal of nothing around 2029.

In response to this loss of state fiscal support, Iowa’s universities have sought to develop alternative revenue sources — mainly from tuition. So tuition charges to students go up, way up. And since nonresident students pay far higher tuition rates than do state residents, the universities first pursue non-residents.

At the University of Iowa, for example, non-residents account for 55 percent of new freshmen. If current trends continue, UI may become a branch campus of the University of Illinois.

In this urgent search for alternative revenues, student “attractiveness” is measured not just in terms of their academic records and test scores, but now in terms of their revenue potential.

• The most valuable are non-resident students because they pay far higher tuition than do state residents.

• They are followed by state residents who can pay the full state resident tuition charge without the cost of an institutional discount.

• The least financially attractive are low-income Iowans, who need institutional financial aid to help them pay their college attendance costs.

This is reflected in the shifting enrollment patterns at UI. Between 2000 and 2010, the share of freshmen coming from outside of Iowa grew by 10.7 percent (so the share of freshmen from Iowa declined by 10.7 percent).

Moreover, enrollments at UI are moving away from serving low income students and toward more affluent students. The university’s share of the state’s undergraduates from low income families has dropped from 7.8 percent in 1999 to 5.3 percent by 2010, while UI’s share of students from higher income families has risen from 14.4 percent to 16.5 percent.

To attract these more affluent students, UI has opened a $60 million recreation building equipped with climbing walls, indoor tracks, swimming pools and rooms filled with exercise equipment.

Iowa has become a national leader is disinvestment in higher education. We are leading the race to the bottom.

It appears that students from lower income families are the first and primary victims of these public and institutional policy choices. These students are a rapidly growing share of Iowa’s K-12 student population, having grown from 23 percent of the total in 1989 to 40 percent by 2012.

They — and the state they will live in — face a bleaker future than would have resulted from a greater state investment in their future higher educations.

Oskaloosa resident Tom Mortenson is a senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington, D.C.

Recent regent history: a story of money and mission
Bruce Wheaton

The relationship between the University of Iowa and the Iowa state Board of Regents sure has changed in the last 30 years or so. Not so long ago, the board’s primary functions were to offer public cheers for its schools and to protect them from political intrusions.

Not any longer.

Maybe it’d be helpful to new regents to consider briefly how we got here. It’s a story about money and mission.

In the years following World War II, universities like Iowa behaved a lot like middle class families of the time — they grew, they got richer, they built new houses, and they doted on their kids.

The rising tide of growth helped insulate such schools from any minor administrative mistakes their leaders might make. It was easy for Iowa’s regents to be proud of UI — it was growing up to be such a strong, attractive adult.

The farm crisis of the early 1980s began to recast the relationship between the state and its universities and serves as a nominal watershed in the history of the regents and UI. Political leaders asked, then demanded, that the school become active in the economic future of the state.

The university responded with a plan keyed to its chartered mission but the state thought it heard the voice of a young professional whose parents had suddenly asked for help paying the mortgage. Accordingly, it responded with the political equivalent of, “You don’t understand the sacrifices your mom and I made for you. We need help … and now you’re too busy to give us a hand … really? Too busy?”

When this battle over UI’s proper mission first broke out, the regents patrolled the middle ground between the institution and the Legislature. Over time, though, the buffering function got lost and the regents themselves became a force in urging UI to reorient its policies to help advance economic and corporate interests — sometimes at the expense of federal guidelines or academic norms.

Ultimately a research university isn’t much good to its home state if it’s not an independent, curious organization dedicated to advancing the imagination. It needs to be more than a trade school with an endowment and a drum major.

It’d be great if new regents could develop enough sympathy for UI’s position to let this happen. Again.

Before retiring, Bruce Wheaton served as director of the University of Iowa's research park, its technology innovation center and its research foundation.

Learn about the everyday lives of the people who make universities strong
Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

As a faculty member who has taught at Iowa’s public universities since 1999, served on the faculty senate at the University of Iowa and worked with various community partners and state agencies, I have many suggestions for the incoming members of the Iowa state Board of regents, but I find a few issues to be quite pressing.

One issue that tops my list is affordable housing for married students, graduate students and students with children. Many of these talented students come from halfway across the globe or our country only to find they are offered housing through the universities that is substandard, dirty and even dangerous for their children.

In general, the safety and well being of all students would be improved if more resources were put toward student health centers, daycare facilities, rape crisis centers such as RVAP, and mental health and student disability centers. While recreation and sports facilities are important, it is equally important to realize that student wellness is comprised of more than athletics.

In the past decade faculty, students and staff at the institutions have suffered through a number of budgetary changes and shortages within their departments. This has been due to the economy, natural disasters, politics and the changing landscape of academia.

Some of the cuts such as slashing small departments, the University of Northern Iowa lab school and graduate programs have deeply impacted the opportunities we are able to offer students for interdisciplinary collaboration; they have affected the diversity of the universities as a whole.

In some cases our institutions have sought to fill these gaps through community partnerships and expanded existing relationships in order to create experiences for students, research opportunities for faculty and to solve relevant problems within our state that impact the environment, social services, education, culture and health as a response.

In order to make our future as Iowans better universities should be encouraged and rewarded for public engagement by the Board of Regents. This kind of work enhances teaching and research and broadens our service commitment to the state.

We are public universities; our doors should be open wide to Iowans regardless of their economic, geographic or social circumstances. The regents should invest in ways to offer more financial assistance to students, build bridges with K-12 educators and institutions, make transferring from a community college to a public university easier and fund more ways to welcome people to our campuses through the arts, athletics, health care and educational experiences.

The regents should also seek ways to recruit and retain minority faculty, staff and students, and to equalize the gender inequality that is prevalent within the academy.

In addition, it is my hope that the new regents will recognize the outstanding universities we have in this state and not subject them to unnecessary scrutiny in order to enhance their own personal political rhetoric without seeing the effects such idiocy can have in the lives of Iowans.

Finally, I would invite the regents to spend a day with a faculty person, a staff member, and a students each year in order to have a lens into the everyday lives and activities of all the people who make our universities strong.

Rachel Marie-Crane Williams is an associate professor in the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History.

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