A key member of the state Board of Regents has resigned in protest over lawmakers' approval of Weber State University's proposed engineering program, denouncing it as an unwarranted reach into Regents' policy-setting authority.
Anthony Morgan, an emeritus University of Utah administrator who chaired the Regents' academics committee, said the move sets a "dangerous precedent."
"It represents a very significant and unprecedented level of interference in academic issues," Morgan wrote in his April 2 letter of resignation to Gov. Gary Herbert. "If local legislative interests are not restrained, either by self discipline or by legislative leadership or by you, we could easily have a higher education system where the establishment and distribution of academic programs is designed by local political interests rather than academic and economic criteria."
The governor shares Morgan's concerns and appreciates his service to the state, according to spokeswoman Angie Welling.
"Governor Herbert strongly believes there is a need for improved communication between the Board of Regents and the Legislature, and will be proactive in fostering better communication in the future," Welling wrote in an e-mail. In his signing statement on SB52, Herbert described lawmakers' foray into academic programming as a "one-time" deviation from normal policy-setting rules.
"Because I support meeting this regional economic development need, I am willing to allow, as an exception, this legislative direction to the Regents," Herbert wrote. "On the whole, the state is best served by allowing the established process for program review within the System of Higher Education and the Board of Regents to continue."
Morgan, who is halfway through his six-year term, resigned two days after Herbert signed SB52, a bill whose original thrust was to mandate greater rural representation on the board that oversees higher education policy. But an 11th-hour amendment added Weber's proposed engineering program. Under state law, approval of new programs rests with Regents.
"If the Board of Regents is not allowed to make these decisions based on rational criteria rather than political power, then there is no reason for me to spend my time assisting in the design a system of higher education that meets the legitimate needs of Utahns at the lowest possible cost and at desired levels of program quality," Morgan wrote.
Gov Herbert is saying that he doesn't believe in the Legislature encroaching on other people's jobs, except when they feel like they need to, as an exception to the rule.
I believe that Gary Herbert is a brilliant guy, except for when he shows his politician side....