The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents received praise Thursday for its service to the state and its citizens from a national expert on the topic. As part of its strategic planning retreat, the Board invited Richard T. Ingram to lead a discussion on the effectiveness of public governing boards in the 21st century.
In his comparison of the Board of Regents to other governing bodies in higher education, Ingram was quick to compliment the Regents, and the UW System as a whole, on their organizational structure, calling it among the very top in the nation.
“It’s commendable to you that you have your oars pulling together in the same direction,” Ingram said, noting specifically the manner in which the Board and UW System leaders offer campuses a relatively high degree of operational autonomy.
Ingram did, however, direct the discussion to how the Board of Regents could shift its focus away from the minutia of university operations to more strategic, longer-term planning.
“Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with the temporal, short-term, here-and-now issues of the day,” he said. “How can we as a governing board for the System, with management’s help, get ourselves to a level where we are thinking about how to conduct our trusteeships?”
Ingram suggested changes to the Board’s meeting structure, highlighting how other institutions have reduced the number of their governing boards’ meetings or limited committee reports only to actionable or other crucial issues.
Regent Elizabeth Burmaster was among a number of Regents to disagree with Ingram’s stance on fewer meetings, saying she always left each two-day session feeling “intellectually provoked.”
“I guess I would argue that it is good that we meet every month, and, yeah, we could clean up our agendas in dealing with mundane things, but I don’t find them so mundane,” she said.
Ingram ended the full-group session by reminding Regents of their challenge to remain abreast of everything going on within the UW System and its campuses, but again commended the university for allowing campuses to operate with a considerable level of freedom.
“One of the wonderful things about your system and your board and your management team is that you have a high level of trust in each other,” he said.
Regents then joined UW System chancellors, provosts and other officials in smaller-group discussions on the university’s Strategic Planning initiatives, presented to the Board by President Kevin Reilly during its May meeting.
Regents hear details about campus all-in-one ID card programs
As part of its monthly meeting, the Board’s Business, Finance and Audit Committee heard an update on UW System campus partnerships with private banks to provide students with multi-function ID cards that also serve as financial tools.
The committee heard from Ruth Anderson, UW System assistant vice president for procurement, about how and why participating campuses entered into these agreements, and what benefits such partnerships offer to the university and students.
“Today, the ID cards are really a very sophisticated tool,” she said, noting how a campus ID card now provides students with access to libraries, financial data, entertainment and food services.
Anderson said campuses began integrating banking functions into the ID cards in the last five years, mainly at the request of students who wanted the convenience. The arrangements also improve administrative processes by, for example, reducing the number of printed tuition reimbursement checks UW-Stout sent to students. In this specific case, she said, the campus has saved $76,000 in administrative costs.
Anderson was joined in her presentation by Andy Soll, UW-Eau Claire vice chancellor for business and student services, and Tom Sonnleitner, UW-Oshkosh vice chancellor of administrative services, who shared the specifics of those campuses’ ID card programs. All three emphasized the “opt-in” nature of the programs, and noted that many students on campuses that offer ID cards with financial functions choose not to participate. Still, they said, these agreements were forged in response to student demand for them.
“As students identify needs, it’s our responsibility to move and look at those kinds of things,” Sonnleitner said. “Banking is not our core business, education is, so we need to find partners that can provide [banking services].”
One of the more controversial issues surrounding the campuses’ ID card programs was the involvement of campus chancellors on the community advisory boards of the banks with which they partner. According to Regent Michael Falbo, who works in the banking industry, the involvement of leaders like campus chancellors is crucial for the ability of a bank to maintain community connections.
UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells, who serves on a local community advisory board for U.S. Bank, said his work helps enhance the bank’s service to the city, adding that he routinely excludes himself from any board discussions involving the campus.
“I’m on record saying in this particular case that I recused myself of any discussion of this card, both on campus and on that community advisory board,” he said. “This was done specifically so this conflict of interest could be avoided.”
Despite occasional challenges to these programs from external bodies, the consensus among participants in the discussion was that the all-in-one ID card programs ultimately benefit the university and its students by providing a service that people want.
“I can see how students would regard this as a very valuable service,” said UW System President Kevin Reilly, “and I think all the functions the card serves are important to students.”
UW System officials will continue to observe these campus ID card programs and, at the request of Regent Brent Smith, will update the Business, Finance and Audit Committee on their findings at the board’s September meeting.
In other committee business, the board heard an update on the UW System’s expenditure trend data from Deborah Durcan, UW System vice president for finance, as well as a biennial budget update from Freda Harris, UW System associate vice president for budget and planning.
The Business, Finance and Audit Committee also approved an exclusive soft drink pouring rights and vending rights contract at UW-La Cross, approved updates to the WiSys Technology Foundation, Inc. contract and approved the UWM Research Foundation contract, which would create a separate technology transfer foundation at UW-Milwaukee, who was formerly a member of WiSys.
The resolutions will go before the full board on Friday.
Physical Planning and Funding Committee
In a brief session, the Physical Planning and Funding Committee:
- approved a resolution to allow UW-Milwaukee to conduct a campus master planning process to include potential new sites for university facilities;
- approved a UW-Whitewater design report and gave the campus authority to adjust the project budget and construct the Moraine Hall Remodeling Project; and
- gave the UW System authority to construct all agency maintenance and repair projects.
The Board of Regents will resume its July meeting on Friday, July 13, at 9 a.m. in Van Hise Hall, Room 1820.
Related: Read July 13 (day 2) news summary