Regents' selection: An inconvenient truth
NOTE to former Vice President Al Gore: climate change isn't the only area where truth that is inconvenient has trouble getting air time with the public.
Sen. Norman Sakamoto has long been one of the University of Hawaii's strongest and most knowledgeable supporters in the state Legislature. However, his Feb. 25 op-ed piece in the Star-Bulletin, "Real change is needed in selection process for UH Regents," is a disappointing effort to sell to the public questionable-practice legislation (Senate Bill 14) currently being considered, and to denigrate the quality of an alternative approach (SB 617) that I supported in testimony, and that is considered best-practice by national experts in university governance.
The legislation in question would implement the constitutional amendment passed last fall requiring the governor to use a candidate advisory council in the selection of nominees to the Board of Regents. The good news is that the use of such councils is considered best practice by the Association of Governing Boards, the premier national authority on college and university governance.
THE "inconvenient truths" that Sakamoto has chosen to ignore are these: AGB stated in testimony to Sakamoto's Education Committee that best-practice governance also indicates that the membership of such councils should be appointed by the governor; AGB supported SB 617; and AGB called into question SB 14, which provides a "Noah's Ark" approach to populating the selection committee.
To quote the testimony of AGB President Richard Legon, "We further believe that governing boards should not have designated slots because public, citizen trusteeship should be comprised of outstanding citizens who are independent in their individual and collective judgment. They should be there to serve the people of the state, not segments of the state or special interests. It follows that an advisory council or screening committee should not be composed of a collection of special interest representatives, notwithstanding the necessity of these representatives' voices and actions in other important affairs of the university. To avoid such situations, AGB recommends that the governor select the members of the candidate advisory council or committee who are not tied to constituent groups or special interests, and without regard to political party affiliation.
"AGB does have serious reservations about Senate Bill 14, the alternative bill under consideration by the committee. Our reservations center around the constituent-based nature of the proposed advisory council that appears in the bill. In addition to those voiced above, such a constituent-based council may make it difficult for the council to recruit and screen regent candidates who possess the broad vision and qualities to lead Hawaii higher education in the challenges ahead.
"Approving the constitutional amendment and putting it before the voters of Hawaii was the right thing to do in all respects. At this critical juncture, it is no less important for the Senate Education Committee to approve the best vehicle for ensuring that the intent of the voters is fully realized -- that the best individuals are recruited, screened and recommended to serve on the Board of Regents. Approving Senate Bill 617 as the enabling legislation of the constitutional amendment fulfills this intent."
IN 2005, enabling legislation essentially like SB 14 was vetoed by the governor, and those opposed to the adoption of the amendment last fall, including our Board of Regents Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta, did so precisely because of the expectation that, once the amendment was approved, the Legislature would go right back to the 2005 well in crafting a 2007 bill.
Those concerns have been validated in spades by SB 14. It does not represent "real reform," as Sakamoto would have it, but rather another example of questionable practices endorsed by our Legislature.
Truths that are inconvenient remain true nonetheless. We need best-practice governance, and AGB has shown us the way in its endorsement of SB 617. The Noah's Ark-style approach of SB 14 should be rejected by the House and replaced with a governor-appointed candidate selection committee.
David McClain is president of the University of Hawaii.