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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2017

Several didn’t answer tuition group’s RSVP

Initial meeting was canceled after only tepid response
Aug 08, 2017

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

 

In planning a series of meetings to reshape the way it sets tuition at Iowa’s public universities, the Board of Regents sent 13 invitations for an initial gathering to lawmakers, legislative officials and business representatives on July 5, less than a month before the event was to take place.

Two weeks later, a board staffer reported receiving no confirmations, according to emails obtained by The Gazette under an open records request. RSVPs trickled in over the next two days, with five — including Gov. Kim Reynolds and Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg — sending regrets. Two — including Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown — designated surrogates to attend instead.

Several didn’t respond at all to the email invitation. Only one of those invited — Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend — said she planned to attend.

“For those that did not respond via email, the board office attempted to reach out personally to them or their staffs,” board spokesman Josh Lehman said.

Though board staff succeeded in making those connections, the staff did not succeed in persuading any to attend the meeting — leading to its cancellation.

“Unfortunately, we were not going to have a high enough turnout of presenters to hold the July 27 meeting,” Regent Larry McKibben, tuition task force chair, said in a news release. “We need to be mindful of everyone’s time and the use of state resources.”

Because the board had three other task force meetings planned — including Monday’s at UNI — McKibben encouraged those invited to the initial meeting to attend a subsequent session.

Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, who had planned to attend the July meeting in Smith’s stead, did just that.

“There has been a steady decline of the state’s commitment to regent universities,” she said in her presentation. “Families and students have ended up picking up the greater majority of the support for our regent universities currently. I know that’s a national trend, but in a state like Iowa, the question would be, should it? Should it be a trend, or should we be a leader?”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, had planned to stand in for Hogg at the July 27 meeting, and he expressed disappointment in a July 24 email with the meeting’s cancellation. He noted vacation plans will interfere with his ability to attend the Iowa State University one this week.

“A better alternative, if the task force really wants to hear broadly from the whole ISU community, would be to wait until after the start of the school year on Aug. 21,” he wrote. “Aug. 9 is a poor choice if Chair McKibben is sincere about getting broad input.”

Regents and university leaders note the importance of involving lawmakers in tuition discussions as they set state appropriations, which account for a large portion of the budgets.

“I was hoping that there would be an engagement of legislators, of business leaders, of others around this topic,” UNI President Mark Nook said Monday. “But I understand it, especially this early in the political cycle as we move into the budget discussions, no one really knows what the revenue picture is going to look like — what they can commit to.”

He said that although university and regent representatives have been engaging lawmakers, “I wish that meeting had occurred.”

“It would have given us some idea of what people are thinking about at the legislative level, within the business community,” he said. “But I think it’s also completely reasonable that the presidents kick it off — get this discussion started.”

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