Proposed change to how regents are chosen prompts Staff Council discussion

Regents Ganahl, Kroll met Monday with governance group

Proposed legislation that would change how members of the CU Board of Regents are chosen was the topic of a special meeting Monday of the University of Colorado Staff Council (UCSC) and campus council chairs.

Speaker of the House KC Becker, D-Boulder, who is listed as the draft legislation’s sponsor, had requested that the council provide feedback to her concerning how the change might affect university staff members.

UCSC Chair Ryan Untisz emphasized that the council would not take a position on the proposed bill. Instead, he said, the meeting at 1800 Grant St. was an opportunity to learn more about the proposed change and hear from Regents Heidi Ganahl, R-Superior, and Jack Kroll, D-Denver, who attended the meeting.

Currently, voters elect regents: one from each of the state’s seven congressional districts and two from the state at large. The bill, as written, would establish a process for the Colorado General Assembly to elect regents.

The draft bill establishes an advisory council consisting of 13 members who would recommend three candidates for each board opening as regent terms end. The advisory council would include a member of the CU student government, a member of the CU Foundation, and one member each from the CU Faculty Council and Staff Council. Other advisory council members would include state senators and representatives, a former regent, a CU alumni association member and business and industry leaders.

A joint legislative committee would review the council’s recommendations. The committee would be composed of four members from the Senate (two each from the major political parties) and four members from the House of Representatives (two from both parties).

The committee would pare the recommendations down to two for each vacancy. The General Assembly would then elect one candidate for each vacancy by joint resolution. Should the legislature fail to elect a regent, the governor would fill the vacancy.

If passed by the legislature, the bill would take effect on Jan. 1, 2021, after voters will have elected three new board members in November.

Untisz noted that during a previous meeting with Becker, the legislator said the bill is meant to shift the selection from a political process to one that would instead identify nonpartisan experts who understand university communities and issues.

Both Ganahl, a Republican, and Kroll, a Democrat, said they oppose the change to the election process.

Kroll said if the legislature appoints or elects regents, then accountability shifts from voters and university communities to the legislators who appointed the regent. He said that would make the board more partisan instead of less partisan. He also said he felt regent appointments would become part of “legislative deal-making.”

“One of the things I worry about is that being appointed by the legislature, regents will be hesitant to get out in front of the legislature and enact more progressive policies than the legislature itself would do,” Kroll said. That would lessen Staff Council’s ability to petition the board because “regents would feel they could not lead on an issue but (would need to) take their cues from the Capitol.”

Ganahl said the suggested change in election process is about control.

“I always prefer the control to be in the hands of the voters,” she said. “There is no better way to provide input or feedback on how you want the university run than to be able to vote and elect the people running it.”

Council members questioned whether the process would hurt the council-regent relationship and whether membership on an advisory council would be feasible for time-strapped students and staff members.  

Untisz asked members in attendance to consider the bill’s potential impacts to staff and send feedback to him or Vice Chair Tara Dressler. Those comments will be compiled and sent to Becker.