September 17, 2014

Brownback surprises skeptics with new Kansas Board of Regents appointments

Martin Hawver
Guest Columnist
Every now and again, not often of course, Gov. Sam Brownback surprises us Statehouse habitués.
It happened last week when he named three new members to the State Board of Regents. We’d heard Brownback’s relentless mantra of creating jobs, of getting the state’s economy growing again, and well, cutting back on everything possible.
The appointees: Former Kansas Republican Party State Chair Fred Logan of Leawood; Robba Moran, Hays, who is married to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, and former legislator Kenny Wilk, of Lansing, are, of course, Republicans, but moderates. We’re talking Republicans of the ‘90s, the philosophical sort who, for example, would probably have voted for former U.S. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, who nowadays probably couldn’t make it through a Republican primary election…
And that was the surprise. Most observers weren’t sure which way Brownback was going to go with his first appointees to the most prestigious of state panels.
Now, that’s not to say that the new regents aren’t going to keep a close eye on the bottom line—Wilk remember, has chaired the House Appropriations and Tax committees, and he’s tight with a dollar…both state general fund dollars and parents’ tuition dollars.
Moran specifically mentioned that she wants the regents she’s joining to make sure that the technical colleges are graduating top-flight students with the courses they need to excel in less-than-four-year degree programs that are aimed at vocations.
But the key is that the new regents clearly aren’t the tip point for a board that is going to industrialize the state’s higher education system, ranging from the six state universities and Washburn to the 19 community colleges and six technical colleges.
The initial fears were that the governor would appoint regents who would downplay or eliminate some of those “softer” courses in a well-rounded higher education, the philosophy, the culture, the arts, history and the like.
You’ve been in those groups at parties, where parents are bragging about their kids in college, how one is majoring in engineering, another in accounting, another in pre-law…and the parents of the student who is studying poetry or medieval sociology or such sorta mention softly that  their child will probably some day move out of the basement.
Look for the new regents to be businesslike: Marking sure that Kansas higher education is producing the best students in the nation, but not meddling with programs that don’t seem to be of the hard-core “build something with your hands” or “design a new computer” genre.
Of course, this is just the first three regent appointments Brownback will make, three more coming in 2013, three more in 2014, by which time the governor will have had the chance to replace the entire nine-member board. But, so far, it appears that the governor doesn’t seem to be heading into a dramatic change in the general philosophy of the regents.
That surprised some of the skeptics, who thought they saw a regents culture change in the works…
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide nonpartisan political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com.

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