Regents will move forward, work to limit politics, leader says

Confirmation process for two regent nominees became highly political

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March 28, 2014 | 1:50 pm

Despite a confirmation process that became partisan, the state Board of Regents will continue to try and make the best decisions for Iowa's three public universities and work to keep political fallout from impacting the board, one regent leader said Tuesday.

Gov. Terry Branstad, meanwhile, said he will find appointments to fill two seats on the regents "in due time," after two of his three nominees were rejected by the Senate Monday.

Branstad, still upset over the Senate defeat of Craig Lang and Robert Cramer, said Tuesday he plans to look for new nominees who will bring the same kind of "skill sets" to the board, which has oversight of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the state's two special schools for deaf and blind students.

The politically-charged confirmation process that took down Cramer and current regent President Lang shouldn't negatively affect the search for two new board members, Branstad said.

"I believe we'll still be able to find good people, I just feel that it's unfortunate and I think a lot of people maybe don't want to go through the personal abuse," the governor said.

A third Branstad appointee to the regents -- Webster City physician Subhash Sahai -- was approved by the Senate.

One of the next steps for the board will be electing a new president, with Lang's term ending April 30. The board meets April 24-25 -- the last meeting for Lang and for members David Miles and Jack Evans -- and then again on June 5. In the event of a presidential vacancy, the board president pro tem serves as president "until such time as a new president is elected" to fill the term, according to board rules.

President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter on Tuesday said plans for board leadership is a discussion the regents will have going forward.

Rastetter, of Alden, said he was disappointed the Senate vote regarding Lang became partisan. He noted that nearly all decisions among the regents in the past two years have been unanimous votes, which he says is a sign that politics have not played a role in gaining consensus among members.

"Very clearly the decisions, the key things that the regents have done the last two years to move the universities forward ... were never controversial on the board," he said. "We will go on and we will continue on in making progress at doing the right thing and serving in the best way we can."

During confirmation hearings last month for Lang, majority Democrats peppered him with questions about the handling of the ill-fated Harkin Institute at ISU and about the influence of politics on the board.

It's unfortunate the Harkin Institute controversy would "become that reflection" that the regents have been overly political, Rastetter said, because he and Lang did not try to make that issue political.

The regents do work with the Legislature and the governor on issues of funding and other matters, Rastetter said, but "we need to be careful not to believe that things are too partisan, because I don't believe they really are."

Regent Katie Mulholland, of Marion, said some of the issues "surrounding the regents" can get too political, which is frustrating. But despite that, "to a person, everyone really is about having the best college and university experience for the students," she said.

Gazette reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this story.

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