It’s not always easy to grasp the consequences of an election. Last week, we found out what happens when you elect a public education skeptic to the highest office in the state.
On Jan. 21, newly-elected Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced two of his picks for the UA Board of Regents, an independent governing body that oversees all three UA colleges.
One of his appointments is Tammy Randolph, a State Farm insurance agent and former board member on the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce from the North Pole. According to Randolph’s statement to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Dunleavy nominated them to give the Board of Regents a business perspective.
There’s just one problem: it’s unclear what even remotely qualifies Randolph to sit on the Board of Regents.
For starters, it’s important to consider the purpose and scope of the Board of Regents. According to the board’s bylaws, regents do everything from formulating policies around tuition increases to appointing the president of the university. Broadly, they help determine the direction of the university, making them an important, impartial organ of the UA system.
As such, the decisions the board makes can have a huge impact on students. How informed a decision a regent makes determines the tuition we pay. How mindful a regent is determines a university’s policy response to allegations of misconduct, both sexual and professional.
It makes sense, then, why regent nominations should have some degree of experience either working at or with universities. Some scope of knowledge as to how they operate, the issues they deal with or the students they govern should be expected.
But Randolph seems to have none of that. The only professional experience Randolph cites is experience as an insurance agent.
A desire for a “business perspective” is understandable, but the board is not a corporation. Decisions on whether or not certain departments or programs should receive support are based on evidence of academic performance and student utility, not whether or not they turn a profit. It’s not bad to have business experience, but it shouldn’t govern your entire philosophy as a regent.
In fact, other than a business mindset, it’s unclear what exactly Randolph would make decisions based on. In an interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Randolph said, “I have not paid attention to the budget issues, so I don’t know how I feel about anything yet. So I’ll just be learning and looking at the budget to see what makes sense and what doesn’t. I support the university, but to what degree I don’t know yet.”
It’s odd enough that someone slotted to be a regent of the university has no opinion on the $50 million in cuts over the past five years — the same cuts that have crippled the university system and dramatically affected the quality of our education.
It’s perhaps even weirder that Randolph says “support the university,” but is unsure to “what degree.” What business an insurance agent with no clear orientation as a policy-maker and questionable support for the university has on the Board of Regents I’m unsure of myself.
To be clear, I’m not saying that every regent needs to be a university insider. The purpose of the board is to be detached from the personal politics of the university and thus should reflect a wide range of perspectives.
That said, those perspectives need to be informed by the stark realities of the UA system. The truth is that, as it stands, we are in crisis mode. We’ve just lost accreditation to one of our most important programs, jeopardizing the credibility of our entire university. Programs continue to struggle as major university cuts gut their institutional capacity, resulting in unsatisfied students and a decreased quality of education.
As a consequence of our struggles, the UA system is in demand for strong and consistent leadership. Appointing unqualified regents to the board like Tammy Randolph will not assuage student fears that such leadership is ever-lacking.