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AN AGGIE LINE: USU cheerleaders perform during the Aggies' final exhibition game. It's time to cheer for basketball. / Photo by Brianna Mortensen

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 10, 2006

Q&A with Ed Bradley:

Q: What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
A: Foreign news.

Q: Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
A: When I first started in New York at WCBS radio, the assignment editor automatically assigned any story that had a minority in it to me. I objected to being typecast and told him if I didn't get a variety of stories -- as other reporters did -- then I would take it up with the news director.

Q: If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
A: If I had the talent, I'd play bass guitar and sing in a kicking band.

--Ed Bradley, reporter, "60 Minutes," died yesterday of leukemia at age 65 (2006)

Board of Regents: Give them some clout, or throw them out

By Jon Cox

October 16, 2006 | In a 2004 campaign idea that didn't register with many voters around the state, Gov. Jon Huntsman proposed the state do away with the Utah Board of Regents. Though never followed through on, I think the governor's deserves our attention.

The State Legislature created the Board of Regents in 1969 to govern Utah's System of Higher Education. It consists of 16 governor-appointed members that meet about 10 times a year to make any big decisions regarding Utah higher education. Universities report to them, and in turn, the Board of Regents reports to the State Legislature.

Of those 16 regents, one student is always included. Like most student government posts these days, you might not do a lot, but it sure looks good on a resumé. The rest of the committee is composed of local businessmen and all 2,300 employees of Zion's Bank.

More than 35 years ago, the state created the board to "avoid unnecessary duplication" and "provide for coordination and consolidation," according to the Utah State Code. The Board of Regents has done quite the opposite. But like most government programs, once you initiate them, it's nearly impossible to get rid of them.

In large part, the blame lies with the State Legislature. In the law they passed, they would "vest in the State Board of Regents the power to govern the state system of higher education."

But they never did.

The Legislature has a hard time giving up any power. Case in point, look at the proliferation of state universities. St. George residents despised the fact that their neighbor to the north Cedar City had a four-year university, while they were stuck with just a community college. St. George is a bigger town, and residents felt like they deserved a bigger university. The Board of Regents repeatedly recommended the state not change Dixie College from a two-year to four-year school. But state lawmakers passed the bill anyway, against their kicks and screams, and now Dixie is a four-year college.

If you want to talk about the need to "avoid unnecessary duplication," go no further than Dixie State College. Several of Southern Utah University's largest four-year programs are now being offered 52 miles to south at DSC. Talk about "coordination and consolidation." Are there really enough college-aged students in southern Utah to warrant two, four-year universities?

Ironically enough, the shift of students from SUU to Dixie never took place. Instead many students are leaving Dixie altogether. Recent enrollment numbers indicate a 16 percent drop in enrollment at the school in the past year. Meanwhile, SUU saw a 3.5 percent increase in students during the same period. If Dixie had stuck with their original mission as a community college, not only would the state save a significant amount of money, Dixie would also not see such a drastic drop in enrollment.

The same types of "unnecessary duplication" can be seen at the new Snow College South in Richfield. The town has a population of 7,000. And puny Ephraim (home of Snow College), 52 miles to the north, only has a population of 4,500. Certainly, Richfield deserves a college if lowly Ephraim has one. Well, several years ago, they got it. And with it, the state invested millions of dollars in additional educational space along with a new 5,000-seat gymnasium.

Oops. Snow College South doesn't even have a basketball team.

Rumor has it Logan High School is tired of just being a high school. They are lobbying the State Legislature to become a four-year college too. Who cares if it competes with USU? If it gets them elected, the State Legislature will vote for it.

Every year the Board of Regents submits a proposed budget to our micro-managing State Legislature. Instead of accepting many of the recommendations, the Legislature often just scraps the proposal and starts from scratch.

So, what's left for the State Board of Regents to do? Well, not a lot. They have a lot of fancy meetings with a lot of fancy food. I went to one. Very few students do (besides the student representative who never made a comment in the whole meeting -- I was the only one). Well, with the Board of Regents' $18 million dollar budget -- more than the College of Eastern Utah by the way, and approximately the same as Snow College -- they have evolved into a hiring committee or college presidents.

Every year, the Board scrambles to fill vacancies created by departing college presidents. Sometimes the search can take years to complete. At one point last year, four of the 10 colleges in the state had no president. Those vacancies have been filled, but since that time, SUU's president quit and the search goes on for his replacement. Sounds like an expensive hiring committee.

The appointment of President Stan Albrecht at USU was an exception to their standard practice. The faculty and staff at USU came to the Board of Regents and proposed his hiring. The Board consented, and in little time, we had a new president. Usually, the process takes months, if not more than a year to complete. Why not just give the authority to hire a new college president to the faculty, staff, and students of a university to begin with? We could save $18 million, and maybe we wouldn't hire so many college presidents who view Utah schools as a stepping stone to a bigger and better job.

If the regents were eliminated, schools could fall back on their Boards of Trustees at each individual institution. We managed to survive just fine before 1969, why can't we do it today? By encouraging more local control of public universities, we would do away with more waste and encourage more student representation.

At a Board of Regents meeting a couple of years ago, in order to decrease expenditures, it was suggested that the state do away with the 12th grade in order to shift funds from public education to higher education. That proposal was quickly rejected. Maybe it's just me, but instead of cutting the 12th grade, couldn't we start by cutting, say, the Board of Regents?

The Utah Board of Regents should be abolished or given more authority from the State Legislature. There is no point in having an extra middle man that you just ignore anyways. Either "vest in the State Board of Regents the power to govern the state system of higher education" or get rid of them altogether. You can't have it both ways.


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