Iowa Board of Regents must commit to transparency

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The state Board of Regents must reject a proposal to reduce the number of the board’s public meetings to the minimum required by state law.

Recoiling from the public’s view and restricting public access to board discussion is the opposite of the approach necessary to rebuild the public’s trust.

Documents obtained by The Gazette indicate the board expects to vote next month on a new meeting schedule and structure that would reduce the number of full board meetings — which have numbered seven or eight in recent years — to four, and to move committee meetings to a separate schedule.

Instead, regents should opt for a more robust meeting schedule and keep committee meetings linked with board meetings to increase public access to their public work.

We share former regent Bob Downer’s concern that “for what is now approaching a $5 billion enterprise, four meetings a year would not be adequate.”

In addition to potentially delaying board decisions about construction and other time-sensitive projects, the proposal appears to further stifle public awareness of and comment on board action.

That’s not a wise move for any public board, but especially foolhardy for one so stained in recent years by public perceptions of inside deals and closed-door activities.

Questionable actions by regents during the hiring of University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld have led to sanctions from the American Association of University Professors and spurred two lawsuits.

More recently The Gazette learned that Gov. Terry Branstad met with one of his key political donors, Mike Richards, about “a possible appointment” days before Regent Mary Andringa submitted her letter of resignation. Two days after that letter arrived, Branstad appointed Richards to fulfill the remaining five years of Andringa’s term, effectively ending any public application process.

Amid charges they did too little to retain outgoing University of Northern Iowa President Bill Ruud, the regents now will embark on another nationwide presidential search.

The only way to repair the board’s reputation is to recommit to transparency, openness and responsiveness to the public’s concerns about the board.

Further limiting the public’s access to the public’s business seems an odd place to start.

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