Opinion: Squelch efforts by Board of Regents to micromanage campuses

Faculty leader warns: “This isn’t ‘Undercover Boss’ with happy endings”
A faculty leader criticizes discussion among the Georgia Board of Regents about assuming a more active role in managing the state's 26 public colleges and universities.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

A faculty leader criticizes discussion among the Georgia Board of Regents about assuming a more active role in managing the state's 26 public colleges and universities. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The current Georgia Board of Regents is going further than its recent predecessors in inserting itself into how Georgia’s 26 colleges and universities operate, a trend that a faculty leader warns will only hurt the system’s national reputation.

In a guest column, Matthew Boedy, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of North Georgia, cites discussion among the regents, all of whom are political appointees, about assuming a more visible and active role on campuses.

Boedy is conference president of the Georgia chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a national organization that represents the interests of college and university faculty members.

By Matthew Boedy

The Board of Regents who oversee the University System of Georgia had a troubling 2021.

It ended a mask mandate that could have slowed the spread of a pandemic now raging through college campuses in our state. It also declined to have a vaccine mandate that could have not only saved lives but lessened the burden on a now overwhelmed hospital system. It got a stern letter of warning from its accreditor because of the perception of political interference in the selection of its chancellor. And finally, it is likely to be censured soon by the most respected higher education organization in the country due to its gutting of tenure.

Matthew Boedy

Credit: Peggy Cozart

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Credit: Peggy Cozart

One might think those issues would be on its agenda this week for its usual monthly meeting.

But the agenda highlights a troubling start to 2022. The agenda summarizes the board’s annual “self-assessment,” which shows that some members of the board think those reputation killers above weren’t enough. As the saying goes, the BOR said, “Hold my beer.”

According to the summary, “a discussion” was had recently among the members about serving on campus-level committees. There are two ways to see this: a generous way and a scary way.

The generous frame goes like this: Those who oversee the 26 public colleges and universities want to roll up their sleeves and see how things are going in Dahlonega, Kennesaw, Augusta, and all parts of the state. They want an on-the-ground view of our state’s multibillion-dollar educational engine.

The scary way is this: Those who oversee the University System want to micromanage, super-supervise, and commandeer how things are going in Dahlonega, etc. This isn’t “Undercover Boss” with happy endings. This is what college admission people call “helicopter parenting.” Rotorcraft regenting? I’ll work on that.

Can you imagine a regent on a hiring committee? Or a diversity committee? Maybe you can and maybe you think that is exactly what this place needs.

Well, let me ask first that you request a regent at football practice. I am sure Kirby Smart would welcome oversight from a person who I will only assume watched the national championship game in person, maybe even from a high perch like the offensive coordinator.

On the committee discussion by the regents, I also would tell them in utter sarcasm if all they want is micromanaging, that is what the University System of Georgia office is for. And second, in a serious tone, I would invite them into my classes to see students and explain to them why we have no mask or vaccine mandate and why it seems the regents have forgone any moral authority and abandoned students, faculty, and staff to the political whims of a state administration who discovered long after the rest of us that this virus spreads in the air but who thinks masks are a crimp on freedom.

One regent, C. Thomas Hopkins Jr., at the meeting this week said he has gotten calls from parents about students forced to “rewrite papers” because of opinions. He implied that on this issue he also got a call from a “senior legislator.” He wants a “hotline” for incidents. Maybe this regent wants to teach freshman composition.

A summary of the regents assessment at least acknowledges the danger in creating a more intrusive role of the regents with this comment: “It was noted that while there is no absolute prohibition on serving in these roles,” it has the potential to blur the lines between the Board and a campus president and create “unclear lines of authority.”

Whoever said this, I applaud.

But the regents were not done with their self-assessment and self-promotion. “Further discussion followed on how to address instances when a regent has cause to believe that an institution is not following policy.”

If you don’t remember, included in that October policy change that has ruined the state’s higher education reputation, the regents threatened to remove tenure granting power from any school that it deemed didn’t have rigorous enough tenure standards.

Now the regents want to know what to do if they see a school “not following policy.”

So as I understand it, the regents wanted to dig so deep into the campuses they oversee they want to serve on the Faculty Welfare and Student Fees and Campus Parking committees, and, if by some chance during all this eagle-eying, they found some break in policy, they want to know what they can do about it.

Big visionaries, these overseers. They definitely have the long-term impact of the state in mind.

Do they know they pay millions of dollars to state employees to conduct this very oversight?

But gladly our unknown hero with a sorely needed grip on reality returns to the stage, “It was noted that the Board has multiple ways to address these situations.”

Well, we all can sleep at night.

Except for those concerned about the future of higher education in this state.

Those people — like me — see a troubling legislative trend happening: banning books, creating ahistorical curriculum and trampling tenure rights. What is the Board of Regents doing about these serious issues that affect the daily working of our campuses? Did not these regents want to serve on our committees?

I again offer the regents a chance to explain. I’m all ears, as are my students.