116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A strategic planning survey that the Board of Regents office sent in June to more than 230 Iowans — including every lawmaker, every member of the governor’s staff and every state department head — received 75 responses, including just 17 from the 200-plus lawmakers and state executives who got it.
The slim percent of state officials who filled out the anonymous survey — aimed at helping the board draft its next five-year plan — mostly agreed the regents use “resources responsibly to support the needs of Iowans” and appropriately engage internal stakeholders like students and university employees.
The lawmakers and state staffers who responded gave regents their lowest marks — with about 50 percent agreement — on the question of whether the board “appropriately engages external stakeholders” including lawmakers, the governor, business leaders and taxpayers.
Across all groups of respondents — including students, campus administrators, faculty, staff and the public surveyed — about half agreed the board appropriately engages both external and internal stakeholders.
Even among board members, only one agreed that fellow regents appropriately engage external stakeholders. Only four of the nine regents responded to their office’s survey, and only two responded to that question.
When discussing the results with regents last Friday, board Executive Director Mark Braun highlighted the legislative and government feedback.
“I thought it would be useful to look at where their perspective was,” Braun said. “There's a lot of agreement on we use our resources responsibly, that we do engage internal stakeholders, we have a realistic mission, and that our planning and budgeting does support the state. However, coming back to engaging external stakeholders, 50 percent of them said we didn't do a good job.”
Regents have talked often and at length about the need to better communicate the importance of what the universities do for the state to the Iowa Legislature, which for decades has been trimming the share of the Board of Regents’ spending that comes from appropriations.
Where state support in 1981 accounted for more than 77 percent of the universities’ general education funding, it has waned to about 30 percent now. Conversely, tuition — which made up 21 percent of general education funding 40 years ago — today accounts for 65 percent.
“To maximize benefits to Iowans and other citizens, the Board of Regents advocates for adequate support for regent institutions from all sources,” according to the board’s recent request for a $22.1 million increase in appropriations in the next budget year. “The two key resource components are state appropriations and tuition revenue.”
When looking across all groups of respondents to the regents survey, the board earned the highest marks for having a realistic mission, in light of its resources, and aligning its mission with “what Iowa needs from its universities.”
Aside from inside and outside engagement, the board earned its lowest marks for taking actions and making decisions that demonstrate “an understanding that they serve the public,” with 62 percent of respondents agreeing and 38 percent disagreeing — including 67 percent disagreement from community members, 38 percent from university employees and 33 percent from lawmakers.
The survey also asked forward-looking questions, like what the board should prioritize and where the board needs to improve.
Legislators and state employees who responded thought the board needed the most improvement in diversifying the campuses — with 68 percent opining the board needs “a lot” of improvement in diversifying the student body and 60 percent urging “a lot” of improvement among faculty and staff.
The lawmakers and state employees who responded also said the board needs a lot of improvement in public transparency — at 69 percent — with another 19 percent saying the board needs “a moderate amount” of improvement in transparency.
University faculty, staff and administrators — the largest group of respondents — said the board needs the most improvement in diversity, transparency, student mental health services and tuition-setting predictability.
Issues that earned the most “very important” votes for future priorities included seeking state appropriations, at 85 percent; ensuring college is affordable, at 80 percent; and upping graduation rates, at 78 percent.
The board, which is planning to consider a draft 2022-2027 strategic plan at its November meeting, also asked in the survey for general thoughts.
Board staff told regents they didn’t find any real themes across the open-ended feedback. Many of the anonymous comments were political in nature or referenced the political landscape in Iowa.
One person, for example, expressed concern “the conservative political environment in Iowa is making it difficult for faculty and students of color in particular to manage their work and studies.”
“We are losing high-quality people as a result of this environment,” that person wrote. “Also, it would be helpful to have more diverse representation among members of the Board of Regents.”
State law requires the nine-member volunteer board — appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate — to have gender balance. It also bars the board from having more than five members of the same political party.
The current board includes five women and four men — with five Republicans, one Democrat and three who are unaffiliated. All are white.
Another survey respondent wrote, “I was taken aback when a fellow legislator said that our regent universities were no longer a place of divergent thinking.”
“He went on to state that there was a large liberal bias in faculty and that was suppressing free speech of students,” the respondent wrote. “I feel it is key to communicate that free speech involves diverse thinking and the universities are a place where students can challenge their own thoughts and ideals.”
Another urged that campus presidents “develop personal relationships with legislators, mayors, city council members, county supervisors … and all elected leaders.”
“Your decision to play partisan politics and follow whatever the governor does puts at risk the very people you say you are serving, specifically as it comes to COVID measures,” one commenter wrote, like another who asked the board to “prioritize the needs of all Iowans … not just those in the political majority.”
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