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Lang says Legislature must make universities a priority

Jermaine Pigee, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

Iowa Board of Regents President Craig Lang wants everyone to know how important state colleges are.

“Our public universities attract students from all over the world, and we enjoy a net migration of students, which provides a population large enough to be a city on its own,” he said.

Lang spoke to members of the Burlington Kiwanis Club during a meeting Thursday.

He was elected the 17th president of the Board of Regents in July 2011. He was appointed to the board in 2007 by Gov. Chet Culver.

The Board of Regents is the governing board for Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.

They are also the governing board for the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, the Iowa School for the Deaf, and they are the administration oversight board of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“Our nine-member board are appointed to six-year terms by the governor,” Lang said. “We have to be approved by the Senate.”

The Board of Regents ordinarily meets once a month, but not less than six times a year.

“Regents are responsible for major policies, coordinating activities of various institutions, approving budgets, selecting the president of the institutions – after consultation with the representatives of the schools involved – approving staff appointments and establishing guidelines for salaries,” Lang said. “We are allowed a $50 per meeting per diem, and our expenses are covered. For many of us, it has been true public service, so we never send in any requests for reimbursement.”

Despite the economic struggles the state is going through, Lang said the state universities are doing what they can.

“Over the past four years, university faculty have adapted by adjusting their teaching loads, teaching schedules and have responded positively to increasing student demands,” Lang said. “Under trying budget circumstances, the quality could have easily suffered, especially when funding reductions are combined with increasing enrollments. That has not been the case.”

Since 2009, Lang said the Board of Regents has approved modest tuition increases for undergraduate residence students averaging 4.6 percent a year despite a significant reduction in state support of 25 percent from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2012.

Gov. Terry Branstad wants to boost spending by $23 million over the current year – but Lang said the Iowa House is recommending a significant cut of $31 million.

Lang said the Iowa Legislature needs to stand up and make public universities a higher priority.

“All of us need to realize an essential point to ensuring our universities strengths and excellence is funding,” he said. “Educational excellence allows our universities to earn the support of Legislatures, draw students from around the world – which increases enrollment and tuition revenue – and attracts the support of private donors who are proud to be associated with our public universities and its programs.”

Dave Vavroch, a Kiwanis member and a State Farm agent who worked with Lang when he was a student at Iowa State University, called Lang and invited him to Burlington.

“He has a real passion for leadership and education, and I’ve seen it over the years,” Vavroch said. “(His speech) gave us a better idea of the foundation of education in Iowa. The challenge now is to keep it going.”

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