With the three appointments announced Friday, Gov. Sam Brownback completed his revamp of the Kansas Board of Regents. All nine members of the board now are Brownback appointees.
Of the three newest appointees, only one has any statewide prominence. That’s Bill Feuerborn of Garnett, a Democrat who served 18 years in the Kansas Legislature, including service on the House Appropriations and Education Budget committees. He also served four years on the USD 365 school board in Garnett.
The other two appointees — Joseph Bain of Goodland, and Zoe Forrester Newton of Sedan — may be well-known in some parts of the state, but they lack the statewide stature that could be helpful as regents. Both are attorneys in private practice, and neither has significant credentials in higher education. Bain graduated from Fort Hays State University in 2002 and the Kansas University School of Law in 2005. He practiced in the Kansas City area before moving to western Kansas in 2011.
According to news reports, Newton was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University in New York and her law degree from Cornell Law School. She ran unsuccessfully, as a Republican, for a district judge position in Sedgwick County in 2012. She started her law practice in Sedan just over a year ago.
In making his announcements Friday, Brownback challenged the new regents to help improve the national rankings of the state’s public universities and said his new appointees will be the right people to raise the profile of the state’s higher education institutions. It will be interesting to see what skills the new appointees bring to that task and how they push the governor’s goal forward.
A key responsibility of the Kansas Board of Regents is to promote and raise the prestige of higher education in Kansas not only in national rankings but also among state legislators and other state leaders who influence funding decisions for those schools. To do that, it helps for the members of the regents to already have some statewide knowledge and clout of their own. Perhaps the two relatively unknown Kansans Brownback appointed as regents will grow into that role, but it’s hard to see them hitting the ground running to sell state leaders on the need to invest in the state’s system of higher education.