To The Editor:
Based on my experience of having served 11 years on the board, I believe recent proposals to restructure the University of Michigan Board of Regents have real merit.
Organizing the board into committees makes perfect sense, which is possibly why the idea has been discussed on and off for some years. The U of M Regents are the only significant university board I know of that operates entirely as a committee of the whole (i.e. without any standing committees).
The operations of the University are very large, complicated and widespread. Its simply impossible for any one Regent to develop an adequately detailed understanding of everything thats going on without the specialization a committee structure provides. At a minimum, having an audit committee to review the annual audit and oversee the adequacy of financial management and control is an essential component of any modern governance structure, whether for a corporation or a large university.
Electing officers (a chair and vice chair, for example) has always been somewhat more problematic in my mind, if only because doing so could lead to political competition among individual Regents that might hurt board collegiality and lead to bad decisions. On the other hand, its clear more than one U of M President has been challenged over the years by working with a leaderless and sometimes anarchic board structure. Dealing with the problems, questions and hot buttons of eight individual Regents takes a tremendous amount of presidential and executive officer time. Worse, an unstructured board could invite abuses in which the views and/or biases of one or two individual Regents might have an undue and inappropriate impact on University policy and operations. If the Regents are concerned about the adverse effects of political competition arising from having electing officers, periodically rotating individual occupants offers a possible solution. On balance, electing officers seems a worthwhile experiment at this point.
While theyre at it, the Regents might want to consider their meeting schedule. At present, they meet essentially every month (excepting August). Given the amount of staff time and energy that goes into preparing for a Regents meeting and anticipating that committees might take additional staff preparation, the Board might consider whether reducing the frequency of meetings to every two months or so would still provide the University with adequate policy-making and oversight.
I hope the Regents, in consultation with Interim President Joe White, will consider affirmatively how reorganizing their structure and operations could improve the governance system of the entire University.
Philip H. Power, Regent Emeritus