GREEN BAY – University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents President Michael Spector told the Board on Friday that it is timely to reconsider, and perhaps redefine, the role of the Board of Regents in the System.

“Simply stated, what do we see as our core responsibilities, in light of present-day fiscal and other realities?  And once we answer that question, what changes, if any, should we make in how we accomplish our business?” Spector asked.

He said the new realities resulting from the 2011-13 Budget Bill, the President’s Advisory Committee report on the Role of UW System Administration, and increased delegation of decision-making to System institutions, all set the stage for the Board considering new roles.

He cited the Education Committee as one example of how new flexibilities could impact Regent roles.  Although the UW institutions – rather than the System – will now be primarily responsible for ensuring the quality of their academic degree programs, the Regents have continuing statutory responsibility for ensuring that Wisconsin benefits from a diverse array of high-quality undergraduate programs, Spector said. “With greater authority vested in the institutions, and less in the System office, what level of detail should the Board expect on general education matters?  How will the Board determine if there is an unmet need in program array?” he asked.

In the area of budgeting, the Board retains responsibility for reviewing, analyzing, and setting the overall budget for the System, Spector said. With the new flexibility of block grants for UW institutions, the nature of budget detail may well change, Spector said.

He noted also that the biennial budget’s addition of specific new performance indicators makes it likely that Regents will be assessing an even greater number of accountability measures. “How should the Board best balance decentralization with oversight regarding accountability issues?” Spector asked.

“As the locus of authority for numerous management decisions changes, the Board still needs to be able to assure the citizens of the state of the soundness of those decisions.  At a minimum, it is timely to consider the extent to which our accountability measures, both long-standing and new, require changes to the type and amount of information available to the Board,” Spector said.

Spector raised the possibility of changing the Board’s committee structure, returning to a suggestion he’d first raised in July. He proposed creating three new committees, each intended to recognize the unique features of several components of the UW System:  (1) the two doctoral institutions; (2) the 11 comprehensive universities; and (3) the UW Colleges and UW-Extension.

Spector proposed that an ad hoc committee that would include Regents, Chancellors, and others be formed to examine how the Board can best meet its functions and responsibilities. He requested that this Committee report its recommendations to the full Board at the December meeting.

Spector also shared that another group of Regents, Chancellors, and staff is currently researching public-system governance structures in other states, in preparation for interaction with the Legislative Task Force created by the 2011-13 Biennial Budget. That group will also report to the December Board meeting.

Regent Jeff Bartell acknowledged that the suggested new committees make sense, given the very different needs of institutions. However, he expressed concern about how to address issues that involve overlapping jurisdictions. He also noted that under the current committee structures, Regents are already split by function. Bartell said this format often precludes Regents from being involved in discussions that might interest them, but do not fall under their committee’s purview.

Regent Judy Crain echoed Regent Bartell’s concerns, and cautioned against Regents becoming over-specialized. “One thing I hope would not happen is that somehow Regents, because of the committee they’re part of, would feel that they represent those institutions rather than the System as a whole,” she said.

Regent Mark Bradley wondered how the Board’s consideration of new roles and responsibilities fit against the forthcoming work of the legislative task force. “To what extent do we proceed with this kind of work at the risk of having it partially undone or completely undone by the state restructuring committee?” he asked.

President Spector responded that issues such as the proposed new committees might be considered internal issues, and “it is appropriate for us to give that proper thought, whether or not it comes up for the task force.” He added, “Given our responsibilities, we should be a player in what goes forward, and the more we get at that sooner rather than later, the more helpful it will be overall. I don’t see an inconsistency.”

While considering new roles for the Board, Regent José Vásquez urged others to “not forget that we really are a System, and not simply an umbrella which a bunch of independent businesses happen to be under.” He reiterated the need for continued opportunities for Regents to engage in thoughtful discussions on systemwide issues, not just the business conducted in their committee.

Regent Mike Falbo, who has been named the chair of the state’s legislative task force, noted that said task force has “good representation and knowledge and history to represent the UW System.” He said his role as chair is “to facilitate, and to produce an outcome that represents and supports the goals and objectives of the UW System, to maintain our status as one of the best systems in the country and to continue to improve.”

Regent Chuck Pruitt, who chaired the President’s Advisory Committee, reminded the Board continues to be relevant. “Speaking for the Committee, it was never our intention to suggest that the Board of Regents would be less or a disappearing body. There was always the expectation that ours would be an evolving role.”

Regent President’s Report

President Spector told the Board that Student Regents Troy Sherven and Katie Pointer recently appeared before the Senate’s higher education committee for their confirmation hearings. A formal committee vote on their confirmations is scheduled for next Wednesday.  He added that the Governor is expected to name appointees for the three remaining vacancies on the Board shortly. Spector also updated Regents on other legislative activities involving UW.

UW System President’s Report

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly provided the Board with an update on the Legislative Task Force that will examine six discrete topics, including the structure of UW System, tuition flexibility, and transfers.

He noted that most of the 17-member task force have now been named, including the appointment of Regent Michael Falbo as chairman.

“Together, we can address some important topics that will have a lasting impact on the future of the UW, the students we educate, and the state we serve. The outcome of those discussions, we hope, will be strategies that will help us build an even stronger, even better UW System,” Reilly said.

He drew the Board’s attention to a bill that has been proposed to extend the deadline for the Legislative Task Force’s report. “If the deadline for that report gets pushed back to January 2013, as has been proposed…it’s significant to note that we will be developing our budget request for the 2013-15 biennium, and submitting it, well before the work of the Task Force is done.”

He added that updates on the progress in implementing and operationalizing flexibilities will continue to be provided to the Board on a regular basis.

In other business, the Board of Regents:

  • Approved a resolution of appreciation for UW-Green Bay;
  • Approved a UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health appointment of Dr. Phillip Farrell to the Oversight and Advisory Committee of the Wisconsin Partnership Fund;
  • Approved revisions to Faculty Personnel Rules at UW-Milwaukee;
  • Formally adopted the Operation Review and Audit Charter, as presented by Elizabeth Dionne, Director of the UW System Office of Operations Review and Audit;
  • Accepted six bequests with a total value of $1,125,288;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to construct the $52.8M School of Nursing project, which includes an increase of the project scope and budget, and approval to seek a waiver to allow single prime bidding for the project. The project’s funding includes about $17.7M Gift and Grant funds;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to construct the first phase of the Student Athlete Performance Center Project, which was formerly known as the Badger Performance Center project;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to lease space for the School of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Family Medicine;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request for authority to increase the project scope and budget and construct the School of Freshwater Sciences Project and authority to seek a waiver to allow single prime bidding for that project;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request for authority to seek the release of additional funds to continue planning the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex (IRC)-Phase I Project;
  • Approved UW-Platteville’s request for authority to modify its campus boundary;
  • Approved UW-River Falls’ request for authority to modify its campus boundary to agree with various changes associated with the new UW-River Falls Master Plan;
  • Approved UW-River Falls’ request for authority to reimburse the city of River Falls for Cascade Avenue assessable improvements; and
  • Approved the UW System staff’s request for authority to seek Building Trust Funds for the preparation of pre-design and preliminary design documents for facility renewal projects pursued under the categorical enumeration of the Facility Renewal Program for the UW-Stout Harvey Hall Renovation Phase II project, and UW-Oshkosh’s Clow Social Science Center and Nursing/Education Building Renovation project.


The UW System Board of Regents will hold its next meeting December 8-9, 2011, hosted by UW-Madison

Related: Read October 6 (day 1) news summary