Board of Regents keeps Mike Richards as president

Branstad appointee demonstrates different leadership style

Mike RichardsNew regent
Mike RichardsNew regent

The West Des Moines doctor and businessman with close ties to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and former Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter will continue his service as the board’s president after his colleagues Thursday unanimously elected him to a two-year term.

Serving second to Mike Richards as Board of Regents president pro tem is Patty Cownie, who also will continue on in the position. Both Richards and Cownie will see their six-year Board of Regent terms expire in 2021, although they could be appointed by the governor to serve again. 

Both were elected to the leadership posts last year in a special election to fill the remaining one year left for former board President Rastetter and President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland, who were leaving the board. 

Since taking the helm, Richards has demonstrated a different leadership style to Rastetter, who was more outspoken on issues affecting both the board and the state. Richards, for example, often skips his opportunity to give a presidential report, where Rastetter typically used that time to address a range of Board of Regents-related issues in the news.

Rastetter repeatedly declined to offer a period during the regular board meetings for public comment, and Richards almost immediately launched a pilot public comment program that frees up space at the start of each meeting for members of the public to address the board on matters related to the institutions it oversees.

Last year, before the board unanimously chose Richards for his first term as president, Regent Larry McKibben suggested he’d like to be president, and initiated a brief campaign for the post. But he eventually fell in line with the majority and supported Richards for president — confirming for The Gazette that Branstad had called him to discuss the board presidency.

When Richards took over last year, he listed several goals — including selecting a “great” new Iowa State University president, addressing tuition increases across the campuses, and forming a collaborative tuition committee with legislators.

The board in October chose Wendy Wintersteen, longtime dean of ISU’s agricultural college, to succeed former ISU President Steven Leath. The board did initiate a tuition task force over the summer, but they were unable to get buy-in from lawmakers and had to scrap its meeting with the legislators.

Meanwhile, the state has continued to cut funding for Board of Regents universities, and the board on Thursday is considering a first reading of proposed tuition increases that will raise rates 3.8 percent for resident undergraduate students at University of Iowa and Iowa State. The proposed increase for those students at University of Northern Iowa is 2.8 percent.

Richards recently said he’d like to consider a sort of tuition plan that would allow families and students to better plan for tuition rates and potential increases in the future.

Richards earned an undergraduate degree from UI in 1970 and then a medical degree from the UI College of Medicine in 1974. He practiced medicine for more than 20 years and was president of Healthcare Preferred and the Iowa Health Physicians Medical Foundation. He also served as chief medical officer at Iowa Health System, which is now UnityPoint Health.

He also is co-founder and owner of Wild Rose Entertainment, a casino and resorts venture of his longtime colleague Gary Kirke. He currently is listed as vice chairman of the board of directors for Wild Rose Casino & Resorts.

Until its sale, Richards served as vice chairman and managing partner of Quatro Composites in Orange County, which specializes in manufacturing carbon composite equipment for the aerospace and medical industries.

Cownie, a 1966 UI graduate, has “been an active public servant in a large variety of central Iowa communities,” according to her Board of Regents bio. She’s served on numerous community organization boards, including for the Des Moines Opera, St. Augustin Foundation, Mercy Hospital Foundation, Des Moines Arts Festival, and Des Moines Civic Center. l Comments: (319) 339-3158;