Editorial: Accountability lacking after regents fail to give students a fair deal

The DI Editorial Board believes the state Board of Regents should have received a harsher penalty for delaying labor-union negotiations.


James Year

Members of the UI community hold signs in protest on the Pentacrest on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017.

DI Editorial Board

It’s business as usual in Iowa: The state Board of Regents, the nine-member governing board that oversees Iowa’s three public universities, has hardly been held accountable for failing to uphold its mission of providing “service that fulfills public purpose.”

Last week, the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board filed a decision reprimanding the regents for negotiating in bad faith with the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, the public-sector union representing around 1,900 University of Iowa graduate employees — the people who teach undergraduates, work in research labs and libraries, and help the UI operate on a daily basis.

The employment panel found the regents in 2017 failed to “actively and substantively discuss” the 2017-19 COGS contract pending the passage of a GOP-backed bill that stripped collective-bargaining rights from public-sector unions. The regents received a mere slap on the wrist for illegally and willfully delaying labor negotiations while awaiting the passage of a law that only requires public-sector employers to negotiate base salaries with unions.

RELATED: State board: Regents engaged in bad-faith negotiations with COGS

The panel’s decision requires the regents post a notice on campus for 30 days saying the regents have been ordered to “cease and desist” from breaking the law. This punishment does not reflect the severity of the illegal action the regents committed.

Granted, this happened in 2017. Different regents serve on the governing board now and they have taken steps to prioritize transparency and foster more constituent interaction — for example, offering public-comment sessions and visiting student-government leaders on campus.

This “politically balanced” governing board appointed by Iowa’s former and current Republican Govs. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds will now comply with the law, we’re told. But will the members simply stop acting as GOP lackeys because they are required to post a public notice that few people will read? It seems unlikely.

This is the same group composed of political appointees who have contributed a combined hundreds of thousands of dollars to the two governors’ campaign committees in the last decade.

Such activity is legal, but mind you, these governors are members of the political party continuing to defund Iowa’s universities. And the regents compensate for dwindling funding by hiking tuition, burdening students and their families with the added expense.

Rather than upholding their mission to serve the public, the regents have historically served partisan interests with little regard for public employees and the public at large.

It is clear that the regents have behaved in a manner that disregards the legitimate interest of students — such as COGS members — and worked to dismantle public higher education.

Rather than upholding their mission to serve the public, the regents have historically served partisan interests with little regard for public employees and the public at large. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes the regents must set aside partisan persuasions in future negotiations and decisions within their scope as a governing board.

RELATED: Regents finalize contract agreement with COGS

The regents took promising steps in recent COGS negotiations, proposing a contract supported by 94 percent of the union’s members and adding topics onto the bargaining table that are not required by state law — though not as many topics as COGS initially requested.

It is imperative that the regents provide graduate employees — the people who actually participate in fulfilling the university’s teaching and research mission — with a fair deal.