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Archive for Thursday, March 18, 1999

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March 18, 1999

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Where they received post-secondary degrees shouldn't be a qualification for potential members of the Kansas Board of Regents.

The nomination and selection of members of the Kansas Board of Regents should be based on the individuals' talent, ability, wisdom, enthusiasm and commitment to higher education, not on where they attended college.

For one reason or another, some legislators have a serious problem with matters associated with higher education, in particular, with anything closely associated with Kansas University.

Kansas lawmakers are trying to figure out how to set up a new system of governance for higher education, a cornerstone of which would be a new structure or organization for the Kansas Board of Regents. One legislator, Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, has proposed some specific requirements for appointing members to the new regents board. The principal ground rule would be that no more than two of the nine regents could be graduates of the same post-secondary institution, and no more than one from each school could be a member of one of the three sub-boards that would be created within the regents.

According to an Associated Press report, the purpose of Umbarger's amendments is to assure community colleges and vocational-technical schools that the new board of regents would not be dominated by KU alumni. Currently, seven members of the nine-member board have either bachelor's or graduate degrees from KU.

There are many men and women throughout Kansas who could be good regents. A governor should be able to select his nominees from the widest possible range of residents, choosing the best possible candidates regardless of where they may have obtained a post-secondary degree. Why prohibit a highly qualified individual from being a regent merely because he or she received a degree from KU?

The bias or negative attitude of some legislators toward higher education, the regents institutions, the cities in which these schools are located and, in particular, the very clear negative feelings toward KU are penalizing the state and its young people. Examples of this negative higher education attitude are seen in the lack of support for faculty salaries commensurate with salaries at peer institutions and legislators' decision not to allow students to be counted as residents of the cities where they live and attend post-secondary schools.

It is difficult to see how a nine-member board of regents would function divided into pods of three members, each assigned specific primary duties to oversee the six state universities, the state's 19 community colleges and 11 vocational-technical schools or provide coordination for all post-secondary schools. The new regents system also would be expected to interact, for coordination purposes with Washburn University and the state's 17 private colleges as well as trade schools that offer post-secondary courses.

This is an even greater responsibility than present board members face, and it would seem there is even more need to select the best individuals to serve on the board regardless of where they attended college or where they live in the state.

In the past, there was concern about governors using regents appointments as a way to reward political cronies or generous campaign contributors. This concern still exists, but Gov. Bill Graves appears to have made a definite effort to appoint individuals based on their abilities rather than on political or monetary ties.

This is the way it should be, and there is no reason to place any kind of restriction on nominees based on where they received their higher education. If the best candidates happen to be men and women with undergraduate or graduate degrees from KU, Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University or Harvard, they should be nominated and approved for service as regents. There is no place for selfishness, jealousy or political payoffs in the selection process for the regents board.

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