9.23.2009

Calls Have Been Made for a More Geographically Diverse Board of Regents

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education proposed a bill to mandate that there be one regent from each of seven designated geographic regions in the state (http://badgerherald.com/news/2009/09/23/state_may_require_re.php)

According to the Herald, currently, 10 of 14 regents are from the Madison and Milwaukee area, and of the four regents from other regions of the state, two are student regents.

Actually, there are 18 regents of whom 12 are either from the Madison or Milwaukee area. True two of the regents from outside of the greater Madison and Milwaukee areas are student regents, but that still leaves four regents from outside of the Madison and Milwaukee areas who serve full seven year terms rather than two. (http://www.uwsa.edu/bor/bios/)

Obviously, the Board of Regents is skewed towards overrepresentation of Madison and Milwaukee, but the the board is not as unbalanced as the Herald would have one believe. For instance, one of the Madison based regents is Tony Evers the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction who obviously has an office and residency in Madison, for he is a full time constitutional officer in the executive branch.

Taking the state superintendent out of the picture for the moment, of the seventeen remaining members eleven are from either the Madison or Milwaukee area, and the remaining six hail from as far north as Wausau and Green Bay, from places as obscure as Neenah, and from La Crosse in southwest Wisconsin to round out the board geographically.

The Herald obviously botched the numbers and may have underestimated the geographic diversity of the board, yet there clearly are a disproportionate number of regents from the Madison and Milwaukee areas. The question is if the disproportionate representation is an issue or not since UW-Madison, and UW Milwaukee are the two largest schools in the UW system.

UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee had a combined enrollment of 70,901 students during the 2007-2008 school year. That means that of the 173,393 total number students enrolled in the UW System during the 2007-2008 school year, only forty-one percent attend schools that lie in the Madison or Milwaukee area.

(http://www.uwsa.edu/cert/publicat/factbook.pdf)

Basically, 61 percent of the Board of Regent members come from areas of the state boasting 41 percent of the UW System student body.

(http://www.uwsa.edu/cert/publicat/factbook.pdf)

When one examines the board as a whole, the 18 regents live in immediate metropolitan areas roughly totaling 109,774 students, or roughly 63 percent of the UW System student body. All regents claim addresses in or near Wisconsin’s major cities and regional centers.

(http://www.uwsa.edu/cert/publicat/factbook.pdf)

Clearly, there needs to be some restraint put on the governor’s ability to appoint regents. After-all, the Board of Regents is chosen from the citizens at large in order to stop power over the UW-System from being consolidated in the hands an unrepresentative few.

Since six people on the board already come from outside of the Madison and Milwaukee areas, I doubt the proposed bill will really make the Board of Regents more representative of the state, for it only creates seven regions and requires that only seven of the 18 regents be dispersed evenly among these districts. Instead of creating an arbitrary number of regions and requiring that one regent comes from each of the regions, which won’t when one examines percentages really boost the representativeness of the board at all, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education could require that there be two regents from each congressional district resulting in all sixteen of the adult regents being appointed in such a way that will geographically balance the board. The two student regents could still be appointed by whatever system they have been in the past.

If one wants to reconcile geographic diversity with student body dispersal, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Higher Education could give each regent a jurisdiction similar to the apportionment that is done to determine state assembly, state senate, and U.S. House representation. The committee could divide the 173,33o member student body into 18 roughly equal segments (campuses won’t be divided).

Clearly, efforts need to be taken to make the Board of Regents a more representative body of the UW-System, but arbitrary districts and arbitrary numbers won’t solve the problem.