Regents choose Richards, Cownie


New leaders are on the clock for the state Board of Regents.

After Regent Larry McKibben moved to unanimously elect Regent Mike Richards as president, the regents named Richards the 22nd president of the governing board that oversees Iowa’s three public universities and special schools. Additionally, Regent Patricia Cownie was named the eighth regent president pro tem.

“I am honored to serve as Board of Regents president,” Richards said in a press release. “I am pleased to be able to serve the people of Iowa and work to make public higher education in Iowa the best it can be.”

The leadership duo takes the place of former Regent President Bruce Rastetter, a Republican agribusiness giant, and former President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland, then the only Democrat amng the nine regents and a retired superintendent from Marion.

RELATED: Rastetter, Mulholland take their leave

Politically, Richards is comparable with Rastetter as a major Republican donor who has given to both Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, the probable incoming governor. According to Iowa Ethics Campaign and Disclosure Board, Richards, who was appointed to the regents in May 2016, has donated upwards of $40,000 to Branstad. There is also a donation of upwards of $100,000 to Branstad under Cownie’s husband’s name.

Richards and Cownie will complete Rastetter’s and Mulholland’s unexpired leadership terms, ending April 30, 2018. Next spring, the regents will hold an election to decide again who will serve two-year terms as president and president pro tem.

While there had been talks of the possibility of Richards being elected president, he had never publicly announced his candidacy. The Daily Iowan reported last week that McKibben was the only candidate to do so, announcing his desire to serve at the helm.

McKibben said he believes those who have been serving as a regent for several years will be able to train those who are newer to the role.

“It’s very unusual that we lose both of our leaders and their six years as experienced leaders,” he said during press availability after the regents’ April 20 meeting in Council Bluffs. “We’re now having very many senior class members, and … we have a great freshman and sophomore class. I have great respect for the appointees and the people coming forward on the board. But I also know there’s a learning curve.”

The new regents and regent leaders will continue facing fiscal challenges as they grapple with the state Legislature’s budget cuts, which resulted in a midyear reduction of about $18 million from the regent universities. The DI also reported that Rastetter said during the April 20 meeting the regents will likely soon announce a telephonic meeting to discuss possibly increasing tuition rates by 5 percent, another 3 percentage points above the rates approved in December 2016.

RELATED: Outlook for tuition: UP

The regents will also work to create a task force including regents and legislators on the Appropriations and Education Committees and other stakeholders. Rastetter said the regents’ office should release a schedule soon defining the timeline of the task force’s meetings.

“Clearly, they’re going to have to call and invite the legislators to be engaged and involved in that, and I would expect they would be,” he said.