The Problems and Politics of Governance in State Universities: Calls for Campus Democracy

In response to battles with undemocratic and unaccountable governing boards, there have been many attempts to make them more democratic. Here are a few of these efforts.

Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Concordia Student Union drafted a report on the corporatization of the university and concluded with calling for an elected Board of Governance (1).

It stated: “From a student’s perspective it appears that the major obstacle to the fulfilling of Concordia’s mission is the governing structure of the University itself.”

Furthermore: “The Board of Governors is dominated by powerful corporate interests that draw private benefits from public university research.”

It looked at the corporatization of the university in these fields: “student fee structures, student financial aid, fund-raising practices, partnerships with the private sector, exclusivity agreements, research contract and advertising contracts.”

This is the section on University Governance:

“All of the above problems, to one degree or another, exist because of the undemocratic, unaccountable and inequitable governing structures at Concordia. It is the position of the CSU that the most significant step the University can take towards dealing with these problems is moving forward on democracy, accountability and equity in its governing bodies. It also means that the members of these governing bodies ought to be representative of the Concordia community. We recommend that Concordia’s governing bodies have the following composition: 1/3 students, 1/3 faculty and 1/3 staff.”

What currently passes for democracy and accountability in our governing institutions is woefully inadequate. The “electoral college” system of choosing staff representatives is Bysanthinian to say the least. The “community at large” representatives on the Board of Governors are in fact self-appointed.

“How can we ensure that our ability to act as social critic is not compromised if our Board of Governors is dominated by the very powerful corporations we need to be critical of?”

How can we claim to support egalitarian values when our own staff is shamefully under-represented in the institution that it makes run? The idea that “non-academic” workers have no interest in the affairs of the academic institution that they work in is a fallacy. Workers have a lot to contribute to our aims of social criticism, citizenship formation, accessibility, equality, etc.

How can accessibility be insured if the average income of those sitting on the University’s decision-making bodies is hundreds of times the average income of the students whose fees they set?”

How can we expect to graduate “informed and responsibly critical citizens who are committed to learning and to the spirit of inquiry” if we do not allow these future “citizens” to meaningfully participate in the governing bodies of their educational institution?”

Wisconsin

Back in 2000 there were proposals change the structure of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System to make it democratically elected. There were many campaigns before to bring attention to the fact that the Board of Regents were made up of wealthy campaign contributors to the state Governor. One campaign student at the University of Wisonsin Madison did was to Buy A Regent, where they raised funds to give as a campaign contribution to get a student regent. There was a student regent position, but they were appointed by the Governor also. There was outrage when Governor Tommy Thompson attempted to appoint Joe Alexander, the son of developer and Thompson contributor Randy Alexander, as the student representative to the Board of Regents (2). This only illustrated the “extreme level of cronyism and political chicanery” that the Regent selection process had become in the state.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison students put on a referendum in their student elections stating the following: “It is the position of the students of the University of Wisconsin at Madison that the UW System Board of Regents is an undemocratic governing body. We will be satisfied with nothing less than the transformation of the Board of Regents into a democratic body, to be made up of directly elected representatives of the UW System students and workers and the general population of Wisconsin” (3).

State Senator Mark Pocan attempted to put through legislation that would make the UW Board of Regents not only an elected body, but provide public funding for the campaigns. Pocan said:

“The Board of Regents deal with some of the biggest issues facing higher education in Wisconsin, from setting tuition levels to selecting Chancellors. Currently one person, the Governor, selects the majority of Regents. I think it’s time that they be accountable to more than a single individual by allowing the general public to elect the Board of Regents” (4). The Governor has the power to appoint the Regents, but the ramifications of their decisions are felt by all state citizens, so the public should have more accountability through the power of the ballot box.

The bill Pocan advanced would have created a fifteen member Board of Regents comprised of the State Superintendent of Schools and a representative of the technical college system board, who currently serve, four students enrolled at an institution or college campus within the University of Wisconsin system and elected by students, and nine members of the general public elected in non-partisan elections at the congressional district level. It would also have created fair elections with spending limits and and public funding.

New Mexico

In 1999, State Senator Cisco McSorley, representative of District 16, which included the University of New Mexico, introduced a Joint Resolution to propose making the Board of Regents in New Mexico Universities democratically elected (5). This was also after years of campaigning by student groups for it.

A JOINT RESOLUTION

PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE 12, SECTION 13 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF NEW MEXICO TO REQUIRE STATEWIDE ELECTIONS FOR THE BOARDS OF REGENTS FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO, NEW MEXICO STATE UNIVERSITY, NEW MEXICO HIGHLANDS UNIVERSITY, WESTERN NEW MEXICO UNIVERSITY, EASTERN NEW MEXICO UNIVERSITY AND NEW MEXICO INSTITUTE OF MINING AND TECHNOLOGY.

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO:

Section 1. It is proposed to amend Article 12, Section 13 of the constitution of New Mexico to read:

“The legislature shall provide for the control and management of [each of said institutions, except the university of New Mexico, by a board of regents for each institution, consisting of five members, four of whom shall be qualified electors of the state of New Mexico, one of whom shall be a member of the student body of the institution and no more than three of whom at the time of their appointment shall be members of the same political party; provided, however, that the student body member provision in this section shall not apply to] the New Mexico school for the deaf, the New Mexico military institute, the northern New Mexico state school [or] and the New Mexico school for the visually handicapped [and for each of those four institutions all five members of the board of regents shall be qualified electors of the state of New Mexico] by a board of regents for each institution, consisting of five members who are qualified electors of the state, no more than three of whom at the time of their appointment are members of the same political party. The governor shall nominate and by and with the consent of the senate shall appoint the members of each board of regents for each of said institutions. The terms of [said nonstudent] members shall be for six years, provided that of the five first appointed the terms of two shall be for two years, the terms for two shall be for four years, and the term of one shall be for six years. [Following the approval by the voters of this amendment and upon the first vacancy of a position held by a nonstudent member on each eligible institution’s board of regents, the governor shall nominate and by and with the consent of the senate shall appoint a student member to serve a two-year term. The governor shall select, with the advice and consent of the senate, a student member from a list provided by the president of the institution. In making the list, the president of the institution shall give due consideration to the recommendations of the student body president of the institution.

The legislature shall provide for the control and management of the university of New Mexico by a board of regents consisting of seven members, six of whom shall be qualified electors of the state of New Mexico, one of whom shall be a member of the student body of the university of New Mexico and no more than four of whom at the time of their appointment shall be members of the same political party. The governor shall nominate and by and with the consent of the senate shall appoint the members of the board of regents. The present five members shall serve out their present terms. The two additional members shall be appointed in 1987 for terms of six years. Following the approval by the voters of this amendment and upon the first vacancy of a position held by a nonstudent member on the university of New Mexico’s board of regents, the governor shall nominate and by and with the consent of the senate shall appoint a student member to serve a two-year term. The governor shall select, with the advice and consent of the senate, a student member from a list provided by the president of the university of New Mexico. In making the list, the president of the university of New Mexico shall give due consideration to the recommendations of the student body president of the university.] New Mexico state university, New Mexico highlands university, western New Mexico university, eastern New Mexico university and the New Mexico institute of mining and technology shall each be controlled and managed by an elected board of regents for each institution consisting of five members who are qualified electors of the state, one of whom shall be a member of the student body of the institution. The board position reserved for the student body member is for a two-year term of office. The remaining four board positions are for six-year terms of office. Board of regents elections shall be statewide elections held at the same time as statewide general elections and conducted as provided by law.

The university of New Mexico shall be controlled and managed by an elected board of regents consisting of seven members who are qualified electors of the state, one of whom shall be a member of the student body of the institution. The board position reserved for the student body member is for a two-year term of office. The remaining six board positions are for six-year terms of office. Board of regents elections shall be statewide elections held at the same time as statewide general elections and conducted as provided by law.

Members of the board shall not be removed except for incompetence, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office. Provided, however, no removal shall be made without notice of hearing and an opportunity to be heard having first been given such member. The supreme court of the state of New Mexico is hereby given exclusive original jurisdiction over proceedings to remove members of the board under such rules as it may promulgate, and its decision in connection with such matters shall be final.”

Section 2. The amendment proposed by this resolution shall be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at the next general election or at any special election prior to that date which may be called for that purpose.

Conclusion

Universities all over have been campaigning to make their governing boards more democratic and accountable. In the face of corporate influence and encroachment of higher education, the constituents of these institutions want to replace their governance with a non-corporate one. Overall, higher education is an institution that should serve a public good and not motives for profit. To make it an institution for building civic involvement, it should be run like one.

Sources:

  1. Bernans, David (CSU Researcher). “Democracy, Accountability and Equity in University Governance.” CSU Report to the Steering Committee of Concordia’s Senate. October 1999. http://www.csu.tao.ca/resources/report.htm (Accessed January 7, 2001).
  2. Nichols, John. “Elect Regents In Order to Restore Respect.” Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin). March 2, 2000.
  3. Nichols, op. Cit.
  4. Pocan, Mark. “Public, Not Governor, Should Select Board of Regents for UW System, Says Pocan.” Press Release. March 21, 2000.
  5. https://www.nmlegis.gov/sessions/99%20Regular/resolutions/senate/SJR18.HTML

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About elloborojo

Okay, as the subtitle states, this is a notebook from what I call a New Mexico diaspora (look up diaspora if you are asking). I was a former resident of New Mexico, now living elsewhere, but New Mexico is still my homeland. To get more in touch with your homeland one must be away from it. This is my attempt to understand it. I was a former anti-militarism activist in the Albuquerque area. Still believe that United Snakes militarism is the greatest threat to the world, as do the majority of the worlds population. Uncovered much information about the ties in New Mexico, but never processed it all. This blog is an attempt to do that. Also hope it may come of use to others with similar interests.
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