How to Make Higher Education More Transparent in Iowa

by Jennifer L. Crull

The May 2011 IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER addressed the issue that our higher educational organizations needed to work to provide better accountability and transparency concerning higher education. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) proposed 13 questions that state legislators should ask about higher education in their state.[1] This list of questions is included in Table One. The state of Iowa is finally taking some steps towards answering these questions about accountability and transparency with higher education in our state, but we still have some work ahead of us.

As with all forms of government, when less information is made easily accessible to the public, it effects the preconceived ideas about that form of government. This is also the case with higher education. In order to increase trust with the state’s higher educational organizations, the then President of the Board of Regents Craig Lang proposed a task force on transparency for the Board of Regents. President Lang stated, “time has come for the Regents to establish new transparency policies based around Iowa’s newly amended ‘Sunshine Laws’ to enable the universities to regain the trust of their constituents and to make sure all future operations are conducted in as much sunlight as possible.”[2]

Last year in February, the Board of Regents approved the formation of a task force to address the issue of transparency in higher education. Then the following month the Board approved the membership for the task force. This task force had two charges to address and make recommendations concerning. These tasks were:

• Recommend best practices for responding to public information requests.
• Recommend best practices for additional access to public information of interest to Iowans.[3]

The task force was approved at the March 2013 meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents. The nine voting members and two non-voting members of the task force were:

• Regent Nicole Carroll, chairperson
• Kathleen Richardson, from the Governor’s Iowa Public Information Board
• Patrice Sayre, Board of Regents Chief Business Officer
• Senator Jeff Danielson
• Representative Peter Cownie
• Mark Braun, University of Iowa
• Miles Lackey, Iowa State University
• Dr. John Johnson, University of Northern Iowa
• Mr. Jack Lashier, Des Moines, Director of the Iowa Hall of Pride
• Tom Evans/Aimee Clayton, Legal Counsel, Board of Regents – non-voting[4]

The task force held three meetings and four public hearings to allow the public plenty of opportunity to provide input concerning the recommendations of the task force. Iowans were also encouraged to write to the task force with their suggestions. With the public hearings and letters the task force was able to hear from 31 individuals and received 140 written comments for the task force to consider.[5]

Once the task force was done they had the following recommendations that were submitted to the Board of Regents in August of 2013:

• Request each public university, the special schools, and the Board Office appoint a Transparency Officer. This person is responsible for all requests for public information and keeping a report on all requests for public information. Additionally this information is to be reported on quarterly.
• Hold a public comment hearing at each university, at the Board Office, and at the special schools prior to each Board of Regents meeting.
• Establish a written public comment option for all docket decision items on each Board of Regents agenda. (See Alabama: http://www.ache.state.al.us/Forum/Index.htm)
• Amend the Board of Regents policy relating to a request to appear before the Board so a request to speak is due after the Board agenda is made available to the public.
• Require that academic program closures occur only at an in-person meeting of the Board of Regents.
• Provide each member of the Board of Regents with a state e-mail account.
• Post Regent conflict of interest papers on Board of Regents Website.
• Establish a transparency data page on each university, special school, and Board of Regents Website.
• Create a database of frequently asked questions. Based upon timeliness of an issue or frequency of citizen contact with the Board of Regents, a question or issue and the response will be posted on the Board of Regents Website.
• Hold a press briefing upon release of the docket. Staff from the Board of Regents Office would conduct the press briefing.
• Require the Board of Regents to annually hold a minimum of one Board meeting in each congressional district.[6]

While this list of recommendations, approved by the Board of Regents at their August 2013 meeting, are a great start, we still have a ways to go to address all the questions that ALEC proposed. The Board of Regents has addressed the transparency issue with public information requests as the task force was asked to do, but we need to push for changes about the accountability, which will allow the taxpayers to easily compare these organizations within the state. So let the Board of Regents know that we want to see more accountability to build our trust that the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent wisely.

Table One: Questions about Acountability and Transparency in Higher Education

Source: Vicki E. Murrary, "10 Questions State Legislators Should Ask About Higher Education," American Legislative Exchange Council, 2011, pp. 24-25.

 

Endnotes

[1] Jennifer L. Crull, “Transparency in Higher Education,” IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER, Public Interest Institute, May 2011, <http://www.iowatransparency.org/Publications/2011/itnmay11.pdf> accessed on April 9, 2014.
[2] Regent Rastetter’s Transparency Comments at Board Meeting on February 6, 2013, Board of Regents, State of Iowa, February 6, 2013, <http://www.regents.iowa.gov/news/stetterstransparencycomments020613.doc.pdf> accessed on April 8, 2014.
[3] Board of Regents, Regents Transparency Task Force Fact Sheet, Board of Regents, State of Iowa, June 18, 2013, <http://www.regents.iowa.gov/TransparencyTaskForce/TTFFactSheet.pdf> accessed on April 8, 2014.
[4] Board of Regents Approves Transparency Task Force, Press Release, March 13, 2013, <http://www.regents.iowa.gov/news/TransparencyTaskForce031313.pdf> accessed on April 8, 2014.
[5] Regent Transparency Task Force, Final Report, Board of Regents, State of Iowa, August 2013, p. 2, <http://www.regents.iowa.gov/TransparencyTaskForce/TTFFinalReport.pdf> accessed on April 9, 2014.
[6] Ibid., pp. 4-5.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

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