2012 election highlights important role of Nebraska Board of Regents
Story and photos by Michael Sholes, NewsNetNebraska
Brock Rezny considers himself to be a well-connected student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But ask him to identify any of the eight members of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and like many students, Rezny draws a blank.
“I honestly could not name a single one,” he said.
While the board may not be as visible as other administrators, Regent and current chairman of the board Jim McClurg says that the state has given the board a great deal of responsibility for the university system. They have final say on tuition rates, professor salaries and tenure and building projects the university may undertake.
“The Board of Regents has the constitutional authority and responsibility of governing the University of Nebraska,” he said.
The University of Nebraska is funded by taxpayers across the state. So the board is in place to make decisions about how most of that money is spent.
How the Board of Regents works
The Board of Regents is made up of eight elected officials from across the state, each serving a different district. They represent the interests of the entire University of Nebraska system.
That includes UNL, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis. The Board of Regents also consists of four non-voting students, one from each university.
Lane Carr is the most recent former president of ASUN and spent the past year as a member of the Board of Regents.
According to Carr, one of the main jobs of the board is to hold the university accountable to the taxpayers of the state of Nebraska.
“Otherwise the chancellors could basically do whatever they want,” he said.
Most of the decisions the board makes, Carr said, are actually discussed at length before the formal vote, which happens during the afternoon session of each meeting,
“Decisions by the board are basically a stamp of approval,” he said.
Regents are elected to six-year terms. Several seats may be up in any given election. The voting consists of a non-partisan primary in May. The top two vote-getters from each district will be on the ballot again in November.
McClurg says that the Board of Regents meets in Lincoln ten times each year for regular meetings. These meetings consist primarily of business affairs and academic affairs.
“Our function is a governance of the university. We provide an oversight function,” he said.
Why it matters
So, why should students and taxpayers across the state be conscientious of who they are voting for this November?
Lincoln attorney and Regent Tim Clare says that the university is the “greatest economic engine in the State of Nebraska.”
Clare, a four-year member of the board, says that keeping tuition affordable and providing a quality education to students helps increase the chances of them taking jobs here in Nebraska when they graduate.
“One of the most important things is doing our best to keep tuition affordable and predictable for our students,” Clare said.
Education isn’t the only way that the university helps drive the state’s economy, he said. By agreeing to partner with the City of Lincoln, the University of Nebraska helped to make the new Pinnacle Bank Arena a reality.
“So far eighty-six percent of the jobs created by the arena, about 1,300 people, have gone to Nebraskans.”
Clare says in the past several years the board has done other things that benefit the university. They okayed innovation campus, moved UNL to the Big Ten Conference and helped reach record fundraising and research and increased enrollment.
On Nov. 6, seats in the third,fourth, fifth and eighth districts will be up for grabs. The only incumbent up for re-election is Bob Whitehouse, who represents the fourth district.
McClurg says that Nebraska is somewhat unique, in that the University of Nebraska is one of only four or five schools in the nation that elect members to the Board of Regents. At other schools, board members are appointed.
Riley Johnson is the Managing Editor at the Daily Nebraskan, and covered Board of Regents meetings last year. He reiterates that since board members are elected, they need to be in tune with their constituents.
“They really represent that farmer out in western Nebraska, or that rancher in the Sandhills or that auto worker here in Lincoln,” he said.
Students who attend the university are a part of that group as well. While it may be difficult for a student to call Perlman directly, Johnson says, it is easier to get in touch with a member of the Board of Regents.
“They’re not as sexy as the state senate,” Johnson said of the political allure of the board.
“It’s not the sexiest body in terms of their discussion, but they are a hyper-local government. They have a lot more trickle-down effect than whomever wins the senate race.”