Mike Richards, Patty Cownie reappointed to Iowa regents leadership posts

The two were re-selected as president and president pro tem amid the regent campuses’ disruption caused by COVID-19.


Emily Wangen

Regent President Mike Richards and Regent President Pro Tem Patricia Cownie listen to a presentation during the regents meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. The regents heard reports on institutional strategic plans and appointed a new executive director.

Marissa Payne, Editor-in-Chief

The state Board of Regents reappointed Mike Richards and Patty Cownie to its top leadership posts Wednesday as the governing board leads Iowa’s public universities through a period of disruption while the institutions respond to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Students have abruptly packed up to move back to their hometowns, instructors have moved courses online and changed syllabi in the matter of a couple of weeks, and administrators have put in overtime to lead campuses through the adjustment to entirely distance learning to promote social distancing.

Regent President Mike Richards thanked the universities’ senior leadership, University of Iowa Health Care officials and medical providers, and the regents who all serve the governing board on a volunteer basis for their time responding to the pandemic.

“They do this selflessly,” he said. “They, along with other first responders, are heroes, and they deserve our gratitude. And thanks for going above and beyond to keep us safe and healthy.”

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He said he has seen a tremendous spirit of cooperation from the regent institutions to meet the goal of maintaining health and safety.

“We fully understand that decisions we have made have been extremely disruptive in some cases, and frustrated many,” he said. “Tough days remain ahead, and additional difficult decisions are likely.”

Richards touts a background with medical experience. He earned an M.D. from the UI College of Medicine in 1974 and practiced in Des Moines for more than 20 years after graduation. Additionally, he was the first chief medical officer at Iowa Health System, which is now UnityPoint Health.

As a medical doctor, he said patients’ health has always come first. The same will remain true, he said, and decisions will protect students, staff, and faculty.

“Each institution will need to respond in a different manner that treats the most students and faculty and employees and staff in the best possible manner,” he said.

These decisions must make sure that the universities remain here today and also safeguard their future decades from now, he said.

“Even though we have had our spring and summer sessions disrupted by the pandemic, we will eventually get through the crisis,” he said. “Our decisions continue to be forward-looking. I want everyone to know that we are planning on a full, normal operation of our universities for the fall of 2020 semester. This includes in-person classes, reopening of residence halls, food service, and other campus services.”

Finally, he urged people follow guidance from state and federal leaders, and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Together, we will weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side,” he said.

Richards’ and President Pro Tem Cownie’s terms are set to expire April 30, 2021. Under their leadership since 2017, the regents have adopted a multiyear tuition model in hopes of making tuition increases more predictable for students and families. The regents also collaborated with the UI on its pursuit of a $1.1 billon utility system public/private partnership to bring on a private firm to operate campus utilities in a 50-year agreement.