By Marissa Payne
COUNCIL BLUFFS — The leaders at the helm of the nine-member governing board that oversees Iowa’s public universities will remain in office for another two years.
Mike Richards and Patricia Cownie will remain president and president pro tem of the state Board of Regents, respectively, the regents determined in a unanimous vote at the regents’ meeting at the Iowa School for the Deaf Thursday. Regents Subhash Sahai and Milt Dakovich were not in attendance.
Elections of regent presidents and presidents pro tem occur during even-numbered years, but Richards and Cownie were elected May 1, 2017 to complete the unexpired terms of Rastetter and former Regent President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland, which were set to end this spring.
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Since the departure of former Regent President Bruce Rastetter in April 2017, Richards has been credited with making the governing board more transparent and accessible, allocating up to 30 minutes at the start of each meeting for members of the public to comment and bring concerns before the regents in person. Previously, the regents held transparency hearings across the regent campuses that often saw little or no attendance from the public.
However, Richards has taken a quieter approach to his work, often foregoing the opportunity to deliver a president’s report during the regents’ meetings to publicly address the issues facing the regents and the universities they oversee.
Ahead of the leaders’ re-election, their colleagues commended Richards and Cownie for their leadership in a time where the state has continually slashed funding for public higher education.
“I think Mike Richards has done a fabulous job as a leader during these difficult times,” Regent Nancy Boettger said. “I appreciate his expertise, his diligence, and his kind manners.”
In about 12 months alone, the three regent universities — the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa — have seen their budgets cut by more than $40 million. Most recently, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed off on cuts to the UI and ISU amounting to $10.9 million in March.
Students and families have called upon the regents to establish more predictable tuition increases after the regents hiked tuition for a second-consecutive summer in June 2017 above previously approved tuition rates. Midyear budget cuts prompted the regents to go back on the rates set in December 2016.
The regents responded to those concerns over the course of summer 2017 by organizing a Tuition Task Force to discuss solutions to the unpredictability with state funding and its effects on tuition rates. As a result of that work, Richards announced in February that come fall, the regents will look to set a projection of baseline ranges of tuition rates for the next five years.
UI President Bruce Harreld told The Daily Iowan in March he is optimistic about the outcome of the plan because of the input gathered in its formation.
“We go — we’re start-and-stop, and we need a long-term commitment, and the same thing’s true with tuition, so I think what Mike is on …” Harreld said.
The terms of both Richards and Cownie are set to expire in 2021, though they could be reappointed by the governor.