I'm not sure Bob Mercer is fully recovered from his recent stay in the hospital. He declares that Kevin Schieffer, the latest GOP crony appointed to the South Dakota Board of Regents, "brings perhaps the widest experience of the nine board members."
Experience? If by "experience" we mean he's "done stuff," then yeah, sure, Schieffer has experience, just like pretty much everyone else in South Dakota. But this relic of a dead railroad's only experience with the higher education system for which he's been appointed to help set policy was getting his B.A. from USD.
Not that one needs experience to serve usefully on an educational board. Consider our local school boards: we don't require that school board members be teachers or principals. We let any registered voter run for school board, and we elect the candidates we think have our kids' best interests at heart.
We elect... ah! There's the difference. Elections aren't perfect, but they're an expression of the popular will. The selection of the Board of Regents is 99% cronyism. One powerful man, the Governor, picks whomever he likes to set policies for over 36,000 students, oversee the equivalent of over 5,000 full-time employee, and profoundly affect the cultural and economic well-being of communities across the state and South Dakota as a whole.
We elect our public utilities commissioners, whose job three out of four voters can't explain or don't know exists. The PUC spends about four and a half million dollars out of the annual state budget and manages 33.2 FTEs. The Board of Regents gets $180 million from the state budget and oodle-million more from students for a total budget this year of $792 million. The Regents have 176 times more spending authority and 153 times more FTEs than the PUC, yet we entrust that massive Regental power and responsibility to publicly unaccountable political appointees.
Electing university policymakers isn't such an unusual idea. Minnesota and New York empower their legislatures to elect their university regents. Nebraska, Nevada, and Michigan elect their university bosses by popular vote.
Could a couple hundred thousand people in the street pick wiser, more knowledgeable policymakers than the Governor? Maybe. Maybe not. But a couple hundred thousand people voting in an election can't all pick their own best friend or leading campaign contributor for an important public office.
The Board of Regents is a big deal, a bigger deal than some other offices for which we hold public elections. Let's change our system and give the students and citizens the Regents serve the right to choose who runs our university system.