The University Record, April 1, 1998
Harrison (standing at left) talks with Regent Martin Taylor while Regent Dan Horning looks on. A large part of Harrison's job as secretary of the University is interacting with the Regents. Photo Services file photo by Bob Kalmbach
By Rebecca A. Doyle
Who runs this University?
It's a question with a complex answer. The Board of Regents is charged with oversight of the entire University, and there are 11 executive officers, including the president and the provost, responsible for administrative areas. The Ann Arbor campus is home to deans of 19 schools and colleges, and the Flint and Dearborn campuses each have four deans. All of them make decisions in their own areas, but the Board of Regents holds final say on budgetary and overall policy.
Walt Harrison, newly appointed as secretary of the University, acts as liaison between the Board of Regents and other parts of the University community. "I am responsible for alerting the Board to things that are going on at the University that they should know, and I am here to help people understand how the Board functions in its dealings with students, faculty, staff and alumni," Harrison says.
The eight members who make up the Board of Regents serve eight-year terms, and are elected in statewide elections held every other year. Regents meet formally once a month and are charged with "general supervision" of the institution and "the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution's funds." They do not receive payment for their services.
Harrison describes the Regents as "a group of people whose devotion to the University is remarkable." His job, he says, is to make sure that the Regents are aware of what is happening on campus, and to act as a liaison between the Board and the president, and between individual Regents. Harrison talks with Regents individually about their concerns and serves as a conduit between Regents and administrators.
The Regents are the absolute decisionmakers for the University, but understand that academic questions should be decided by the deans and the provost. While they are interested in all aspects of the U-M, they focus on budget and cost and the overall state of the University. Among recent concerns raised by the Regents:
Reducing costs. Regents would like to see administrative costs reduced in order to keep the University accessible and affordable to all Michigan citizens.
Benchmarking. Regents want the practices at the U-M benchmarked with other universities of similar stature, for example, comparing the housing at Michigan with that at Michigan State University.
Privatization. The Regents would like to see more privatization of University services. "The Regents are interested in making sure that we look all the time to see if replacing the services we offer internally with outside vendors would save money," Harrison notes. The University is similar to a city in the services offered within its community, providing services ranging from running its own ticket agency to providing bus transportation for employees and students.
Each of the Regents of the University has something to add to the Board and to the governance of the U-M. Beginning next week, we'll talk with each one and pass on to the University community some of the things that they find the most interesting or challenging about the U-M, as well as taking a look at who they are as people.
By Rebecca A. Doyle
Each month they file in to the Regents Room in the Fleming Building, bringing with them briefcases, files folders and an agenda book that can be as much as three inches thick. With the president at the head of the table, the Regents take their seats on either side. Senior members of the Board sit closest to the president and executive officers fill the remaining seats.
It sounds as solemn and professional as can be, with that much decision-making power in one room. And on occasion, it is. Sometimes sessions are closed, as permitted by the Open Meetings Act, for discussions about litigation or personnel actions. But there is also celebration and laughter, teasing and joking around the table. The Regents had a baby shower for Regent Andrea Fischer Newman, and only a few weeks ago, the president was sought out by a human frog to draw attention to the Environmental Theme Semester.
Meetings begin at 1:30 p.m., generally on the third Thursday of the month, to hear special reports on such issues as tuition, housing, budgets or proposed construction. Regents receive advance information about the presentations so they can be well enough informed to ask questions and ask for more information. At 4 p.m. time is set aside for public comments--anyone who wishes to address the Board and has contacted the Regents office in advance may present an item to the Board. Although they seldom comment, the Regents listen carefully to each person who comes to the table.
Friday, the second day of a Regents' meeting, is usually taken up with matters that need approval, but which are presented to the board in written form in advance. Promotions, allocations for building renovation, matters involving campus planning and new buildings, tenure approval, retirement memoirs and faculty and administrative appointments are a large part of the Friday schedule. The Regents also consider long-range investment strategies for the University's endowment and oversee the University's finances through a series of audit reports. Regents also are sent background information on pending, resolved and in-progress litigation.
The Board meets once a year on the Dearborn campus and once on the Flint campus to see the changes and additions that have been made both physically and in programs on those campuses.
The amount of time spent in preparation for a meeting varies with each Regent, but most spend at least 15 hours a month outside meeting times learning about campus issues and seeking out facts and opinions from others in the state, as well as faculty, staff and students.
By noon on Friday, the monthly meeting is finished, and the Regents return to their home bases in Grand Haven, Bloomfield Hills, Ann Arbor, Grosse Pointe Farms, Battle Creek and Goodrich.