Board of Regents Meetings

An  Alternative Format

Submitted By John A. Mercer

December 17, 2001

 

            The purpose of this document is to set forth an alternative to the current manner in which the Board of Regents conduct its meetings, generate comments on the existing meeting format as well as this proposed alternative, and urge the Regents to determine and implement the most efficient and meaningful meeting format.  The proposal does not envision altering the existing community breakfasts or student luncheons.  The existing informal meetings with faculty and staff could continue unless those groups feel the increased opportunity for input under the proposed alternative meeting format accomplishes the same objective.

 

            Among the objectives of the proposed alternative meeting format set forth below are as follows:

 

1.         Provide greater opportunity for citizens, students, faculty, staff and administrators to interact with the Board when a matter is under consideration;

 

2.                  Eliminate unnecessary repetition and delay; and

 

3.                  Simplicity.

 

            The only Regent meetings I have ever observed are the last three, July, September and November.  At each meeting there was zero citizen impute.  Citizen testimony is requested on the morning of the second day of each meeting in an open forum format, but not during the discussion of any proposal or topic.  Students, faculty, staff and even administrators do not have a procedural right to express views on agenda items when they arise during the meetings.  It is true, some administrators simply speak up and express their views, but not in a format where such views are openly invited.

 

            The existing governance culture looks to me as one where staff manages the system, and the Regents approve after the fact.  Examples are the Budget, collective bargaining and lawsuit settlements.  I realize this is consistent with the role of Boards as outlined by John Carver in his book, Carver Guide, Basic Principles of Policy Governance. It is my strong belief, however, that the existing governance culture is contrary to the Montana Constitution and laws of our State, not to mention common sense.

 

            I believe Regent meetings are the place to discuss, deliberate and decide such matters, and in order to do that effectively and responsibly, there must be a format that invites open exchange with citizens, students, faculty, staff and administrators at the time those matters are called up on the agenda.

 

            A great deal of repetition, delay and confusion seems to surround the work sessions, committee meetings and complex multi step submission then action format.  The work sessions do  not provide for any formalized interaction with others interested in the topics being discussed, nor is there any clear understanding of where things go after they have been discussed.  The submission then action process, no doubt designed to ensure careful and deliberate action, has produced mostly delay and repetition.  Furthermore, certain items are arbitrarily exempted from the process.  Everyone is well intentioned, it is just a clumsy process.  Delay or repetition should occur only when the Board determines it necessary during the discussion or deliberation of an agenda item.               

 

PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE MEETING FORMAT

 

Each Board of Regents Meeting shall begin with an invocation, the pledge of allegiance, and roll call.  Following the opening, the order of business shall be as follows:

 

            1.   Reading and approval of minutes;

     

2. Action Items

 

A.       Consent Items

B.       Regent, Staff or Other Items

 

3.      Special Items

 

4.   Adjourn

 

EXPLANATION OF PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE MEETING FORMAT

 

A.         Opening

 

            The host institution could arrange for an invocation, for example, by a student, faculty, staff or local clergy.  A grade school student, former or current member of the military, for example, could lead the pledge of allegiance.

 

B.        Action Items

 

            This Order of Business merges the work session, committee meetings, consent agendas, submission agendas, new business and old business all into a single order of business where the Board can act as a Committee of the Whole.  In other words, if something requires the action of the Board of Regents, such action will  be taken under this Order of Business.  Student reports, campus reports and the Commissioner’s report would be submitted in writing prior to the meeting eliminating the need for those items on the agenda.  Questions regarding any written reports if not otherwise relevant to an Action Item may be raised during Special Items.

 

            The Chair may preside over the Committee of the Whole or may assign other Regents to preside over portions or all of the Committee meeting.

 

            In order for an item, or group of items, to be placed on the agenda, the item or items must have been requested by a member of the Board of Regents, a campus, or the Commissioner’s office, and submitted to the Secretary of the Board of Regents at least two weeks prior to a meeting.  The Chairman shall place all matters submitted on the agenda.  The Chairman shall arrange the items on the agenda.

 

            When an item comes up on the agenda, the sponsoring Regent, campus, or representative of the Commissioner’s office shall present the item, the chair will  invite testimony, followed by questions from the Regents.  The sponsor will  then have the right to respond.  The item may be acted upon by the Regents at that time, or action may be delayed until after other action items have been presented.  Items presented may be altered or amended, but not in such a manner as to change the original purpose.

 

            An item or group of items may be designated “Consent” by the requestor with the concurrence of the Chair, and when the matter comes up on the agenda, if there is no objection, it may be acted on without further testimony or discussion.

 

            The Regents always retain the authority to delay action on any item until later in the meeting or until a future meeting, or to table a matter indefinitely.

 

            It is during the testimony portion that citizens, students, faculty, staff and administrators can interact with the Board resulting in greater input and impact on Board decisions.  Obviously, written information or testimony can be filed in advance of the meeting as well and made a part of the record.

 

C.        Special Items

 

            If some matter requires the special attention of the Regents it can be placed on this Order of Business for discussion.  E.g., Negative Fund Balances, long range planning, appeals, etc.

 

4.      Executive Session

 

            The current undefined Executive Session carried on the existing agenda of each meeting would be dropped and in accordance with  MCA Title 2, Chapter 3, Executive Session would be announced by the chair prior to the discussion of a scheduled and noticed item that justifies such closed session under the law.  This would provide the public notice of the general nature of the matter being discussed in executive session and the justification for closed session.  The Chair has the authority to move an Executive Session to the end of the meeting or to any other time certain.