Yesterday I wrote a little about the Board of Regents in relation to the recent presidential search at UNM. One of their main tasks is to appoint the president of the university. With all the hoopla about the presidential search, many seem to forget that the Regents themselves will ultimately pick the president, since it is written in the law that they do. With that it is a good time to further explore the Board of Regents, (not the pharmacy) and their role in power in the universities.
Like other universities in the state of New Mexico, as well as most public universities in the United States, the University of New Mexico is legislated to be run by a Board of Regents. Other universities often call them boards of trustees. In fact, there is a national organization for these boards and individual members called the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (1). The Regents act as the governing body of UNM, and as structured are given power over almost every aspect of university life. According to the Board of Regents Policy Manual:
“The Board of Regents is responsible for the governance of the University of New Mexico. This responsibility may be exercised only by the Board as a unit; individual Regents are without power to act separately in the transaction of University business, except when one of the Board’s officers is specifically authorized to act on behalf of the Board.
The Board’s power to govern the University includes fiduciary responsibility for the assets and programs of the University, establishment of goals and policies to guide the University and oversight of the functioning of the University. The Board vests responsibility for the operation and management of the University in the President of the University.”
It then goes into a list of 8 tasks for the Board, and ending with “The Board reserves the right to consider and determine any matter relating to the University. ” (BRPM 1.1, http://policy.unm.edu/regents-policies/section-1/1-1.html)
So the Regents not only appoint the President, their CEO, but they also decide the university budget, set tuition rates, determine and create degrees and programs, and overall determine daily policies of the university.
Despite this immense power they are not elected by anyone that is affected by their decisions, as they are appointed by the governor. Furthermore they are accountable to no one except the governor who appoints them. At UNM there is a total of seven regents, which includes one student regent, added on back in the 90’s. All members of the Board of Regents serve a six year term, except for the student regent who serves a two year term. The student regent, added in response to complaints of lack of student voice, is also appointed by the governor and only accountable to the governor. The only requirement for input into the student regent is that the governor select a nominee based on a list provided by the UNM President, ” giving due consideration to the recommendations of the student body president of the university.” (http://www.unm.edu/news/Clippings/2005Clips/Jan05/18regent.htm). In other words the President can write off the suggestions of student government in the selection of regent nominees to the governor.
Overall in the case of the selection of student and non-student regents there is no formal mechanism for input from students, faculty, campus workers, or the general citizens of the state in who gets appointed to these offices. In fact there is really no official qualifications to be a Regent, or no requirement that they have to know something about higher education.
So who gets appointed to the board of Regents? The appointments are made by the Goveror, and based on patronage. The appointees, no matter if the governor is Republican or Democrat, have been, with few exceptions, business owners, stock holders, lawyers, executives, millionaire heirs, and representatives of government labs. Most of the time they are selected from the governor’s campaign contributors or others who are well connected politically.
(Here’s a homework assignment. Find the names of your Board of Regents or Trustees, which is public information, and match it up with campaign contributions to the governor found at http://www.followthemoney.org/ and see how much cash the Regents give to their guv. You will see a pattern there.)
The New Mexico law requires that there be an equal number of Democrats and Republicans appointed to the board, so as to be even, but in one case former governor Richardson had his nominees change their party registration before they got appointed. (http://haussamen.blogspot.com/2006/11/political-shifts-by-nmsu-regent.html)
The law gives students, workers, community, and faculty a voice as “advisors” but no real authority. Once again, the corporate structure of the university.
The presidential search is only one, if not the more visible, areas where one can see how undemocratic and coercive the present university power system is. With a university run as a corporation, for corporations, and by people from that corporate world, it is done like this from its inception. This power structure was best exemplified by former President Peck, who stated to student organizers, “you don’t seem to appreciate the division of labor around here. We make the decisions, you go to class.”
There have been attempts to challenge the structure of the Board of Regents. Many have pushed for elected board of Regents, so communities would have more of a say in university governance. This would not be the end all solution, as Amerikan democracy often suffers from apathy. But it would bring more accountability to the process. Meanwhile the university is connected with the rest of society, and it can change if pressure is put on it.
- The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) is a national organization that provides “universities and college presidents, board chars and individual trustees of both public and private institutions with the resources they need to enhance their effectiveness.” The AGB promotes the “practice of citizen trusteeship.” They serve “34,500 trustees, regents, presidents, chancellors, rectors, executive directors, board secretaries, senior administrators.” They are affiliated with “1,800 college and university campuses of all types – independent and public, four year and two year, general and specialized.” from http://www.agb.org/about.cfn