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Posted at 12:47 PM ET, 06/26/2012

U-Va. controversy: How are top public universities governed?


When the University of Virginia Board of Visitors unexpectedly announced this month that President Teresa Sullivan had agreed to step down, the response from some students was: The board of what?

Even those who knew the governing board existed didn’t know the reach of its power or that it has 16 voting members who are appointed by the governor for four-year terms. The U-Va. Faculty Senate is now pushing for faculty representation on that board, and others are advocating even more changes.


Rector Helen E. Dragas speaks during a U-Va. Board of Visitors meeting on June 18. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the commerce school who was briefly appointed interim president, said at a news conference Friday that the board needs faculty and staff representation, along with members who are not political appointees and “independent experts” who understand issues of higher education. Such a governance model could be used at other universities that are facing much more dire funding problems, he said.

Here’s an overview of a few other university structures:

University of California: The entire UC system is overseen by a board of 26 regents. Eighteen of those regents are appointed by the governor for 12-year terms. There is also a student who is appointed by the regents for a one-year term, and seven ex officio members — the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the assembly, superintendent of public instruction, UC president and the alumni associations president and vice president. There are also two faculty members who are non-voting members. (Additionally, several campuses have their own foundations with a board of trustees or directors who oversee collection and spending of private dollars.)

University of Maryland: A 17-member Board of Regents oversees the 12 institutions in the University of Maryland System and appoints the system’s chancellor. The board includes 16 members who are appointed by the governor for five-year terms and a student regent who is appointed for a one-year term. (There is also the College Park Foundation Board of Trustees, who oversee the collection and spending of donations at the flagship campus.)

Penn State University: Penn State has one of the largest boards out there. The Board of Trustees has 32 members: Six are appointed by the governor, nine are elected by alumni, six are elected by state agricultural societies, six are elected by the board to represent business and industry endeavors, and five become ex officio members by virtue of their jobs — the president of the university, the governor, and state secretaries of the agriculture, education, and conservation and natural resources departments. The rest are emeriti trustees.

These trustees saw themselves vaulted into the headlines in November after firing football coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier in the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty on 45 of 48 charges against him. In the wake of those firings, there have been calls from alumni and others to revisit how the governing board is selected and the level of their involvement.

College of William and Mary:Virginia’s other prestigious public university also has a Board of Visitors, which has 17 members who are appointed to four-year terms by the governor. (One member was arrested for public intoxication following a meeting in September.)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The flagship campus has its own board of 13 trustees. Four are appointed by the governor. One is the student body president. Eight are selected by the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina, a 32-member board selected by the general assembly to oversee all campuses.

The university also has a board of visitors, about 170 people who serve four-year terms and are selected by the trustees to help the school on a number of issues, including fundraising.

University of Michigan: The flagship university is overseen by eight regents who are elected at-large in biennial state-wide elections. Their terms are eight years long, and they meet once a month. (FYI: Sullivan was provost at Michigan before becoming president at U-Va. nearly two years ago.)

University of Nebraska: The Board of Regents consists of eight voting members who run for office in eight districts of the state and are elected by voters for six-year terms. There are also four nonvoting students regents — the student body presidents from each of the four campuses. (Side note: I graduated from Nebraska in 2007, and wrote about the regents for the student newspaper, including an article about why the student regents hardly ever spoke up. A big perk of being a regent in Nebraska: prime football tickets.)

University of Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has 18 members, 16 of whom are appointed to seven-year terms by the governor and two of whom are students who serve two-year terms.

University of Texas: The University of Texas System Board of Regents has nine members who are appointed by the governor for six-year terms.

How is your campus governed? What’s the best model out there? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

By  |  12:47 PM ET, 06/26/2012

 
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