|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, July 8, 2004
San Diego Union-Tribune 7-8-04
Some UC regents missing majority of board meetings
They're influential policy-makers appointed by the governor to oversee the University of California, the state's most prestigious higher education system.
At a minimum, UC regents are expected to attend board meetings six times a year to set policy for the 10-campus institution and its $14 billion annual budget.
And yet some UC regents are far from fulfilling that responsibility, creating resentment among colleagues. An analysis of UC records shows four of the 18 appointed regents have missed more than one-third of their board and committee meetings from 2000 to 2003.
Two members have missed nearly two-thirds of their scheduled meetings on the Board of Regents.
The average attendance at meetings for a university trustee or regent is 80 percent, estimates Tom Ingram, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
"Any trustee who only attends one-third of meetings should be a candidate for removal," Ingram said. "These positions are terribly important. If they can't give their time, they have a duty to move over and resign."
For the UC system, the absenteeism has led to irritation and divisions on the board and created uneven workloads among members, who are entrusted with massive responsibilities.
"This is a very serious problem," said regent Ward Connerly, a Sacramento consultant who described the current board as the most fractured he's seen in his 11 years as a regent. "Something has to be done to get regents – all regents – to carry the load and at least show up for meetings."
Connerly attended 71 percent of the meetings from 2000 to 2003, according to UC records.
In addition to board meetings, regents are assigned to committees that generally meet on the same days the board does. Most serve on two to four committees.
The most conspicuously absent regent has been Haim Saban, an entertainment magnate appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2002.
UC records show Saban missed 67 percent of meetings since joining the board. For the 2002-03 year – the most recent year that UC records are available – Saban missed 84 percent of his committee meetings and all of the board meetings.
"I've been on the board of regents almost a complete year and the one regent I've never met is Haim Saban," said George Blumenthal, vice chairman of UC's faculty Academic Council.
Saban, who founded Fox Family Worldwide and Saban Entertainment – creator of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – declined to discuss the matter.
Blumenthal said the problem is compounded by the failure of regents to prepare for the board meetings they do attend. Before each meeting, regents are expected to read extensive briefing materials that can take more than a day to digest.
"Sometimes regents are completely lost and others are extremely familiar," Blumenthal said. "It's brought about divisions in the board."
Regent Norman Pattiz, appointed by Davis in 2001, has missed 62 percent of his committee and board meetings. In 2002-03, Pattiz missed nine of 10 board meetings, UC records show.
Pattiz, the founder and chairman of Westwood One, also declined to discuss his attendance record.
Some UC regents with attendance well below the board's attendance average of 74 percent contested the records kept by board secretary Leigh Trivette.
Trivette, who has held her job since 1993, defended her record-keeping. She said she is vigilant at meetings to observe regents who arrive late, a frequent occurrence.
Richard Blum, the board's new vice chairman, said UC records showing he attended 59 percent of meetings since 2002 are wrong.
"That's totally incorrect," he said.
Blum, who heads a San Francisco investment firm and is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., added that although scheduling conflicts have kept him from attending some committee meetings, he has always provided input.
"There is literally not a day that goes by that I'm not doing something that is designed to work with solving the problems of the university," Blum said.
Regent Sherry Lansing, the chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, also contested records showing she attended 70 percent of meetings.
"There's something wrong with the records," Lansing said, contending that she missed only one board meeting last year.
Trivette stood by the accuracy of her records.
Among San Diego County regents, attendance has been varied. Regent John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres, attended 73 percent of meetings from 2000 to 2003. Gerry Parsky, President Bush's top California adviser, attended 58 percent. Peter Preuss, founder and president of The Preuss Foundation in La Jolla, attended 90 percent and Tom Sayles, a vice president at San Diego's Sempra Energy, attended 65 percent.
Attendance figures are much higher at two university systems to which the UC often compares itself. The eight appointed trustees at the three-campus University of Michigan averaged 94 percent attendance last year, according to the minutes of the board meetings. The nine appointed trustees for the three-campus University of Illinois system averaged 96 percent attendance last year, according to university records.
University officials across the country say that as long as trustees have a quorum – nine members for UC board meetings – business can be accomplished.
"Service is voluntary," said David Henahan, director of media relations at the State University of New York, a 64-campus system. "These are unpaid positions. I don't recall anything in statute that requires or compels attendance."
The problem, some say, is regents often aren't told what to expect when they accept the 12-year appointment. At many private colleges, there are attendance requirements for membership. Trustees at the Teachers College at Columbia University, for example, are asked to resign if they miss two board meetings a year.
"We've excused two trustees in the past few years," said Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College. "This is more than an honor. Trustees have the responsibility to set policy for the institution. You can't do that if you're not there."
The UC has no procedure for removal of its regents, and resignations are uncommon. In the past two decades, two regents have resigned for health or personal reasons.
UC regents have significant autonomy because they are empowered by the state Constitution. Even the governors who appoint them cannot remove them.
Blum said that with Parsky, of Rancho Santa Fe, taking over the board chairmanship this month, it may be time for all regents to recommit themselves to the board.
Some, including Blumenthal, hope two regents appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week – Fredrick Ruiz, a San Joaquin Valley businessman, and Paul Wachter, a Los Angeles investment banker – will breathe new life into the board.
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