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