Robert Dynes, who just resigned as president of the University of California, has excellent credentials as a physicist and he is a very decent human being. But he should have quit the day he was named to head the UC system. It was a mistake from the outset to select him. Some of the fault is mine. I was on the board of regents at the time.
Dynes may have been encouraged to resign because of his handling of administrative compensation and other “perks,” some of which were quite large and never made public. But mishandling of executive compensation and the perception of him as a weak administrator are the wrong reasons for pushing him to leave.
The California Constitution establishes UC as an independent entity governed by a board of regents whose members are appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation, and who serve 12-year terms. Twelve years is about two to four years too long. For most regents, burn-out or senility — whichever comes first — occurs long before 12 years are up. It’s also a mistake to put politicians, such as lieutenant governors, on the board. This creates endless opportunities for political grandstanding and politicizing of the university.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, president of the board of regents, cannot be accused of these sins. He has yet to attend his first meeting of the board. Many believed he has more important tasks to perform. But this raises the question of why the governor should be the president of the regents at all.
In addition to structural problems of the board, most of the regents are generally not hands-on enough about the activities of the institution which they govern. Part of the problem can be traced to efforts on the part of several regents over the years who sought to raise the threshold for transactions requiring the approval of the regents.
In retrospect, I believe the regents — myself included — made a serious mistake in establishing a threshold for faculty salaries, moving and housing allowances, mortgage loans and for other transactions that allows the UC president too much authority. As a result, we achieved our objective of freeing the board to devote more attention to policy, but we also gave the Office of the President far too much decision-making authority with inadequate oversight of their decisions. Worst of all, I believe those decisions contributed to a culture of laxity and resistance to oversight.
When regents are only minimally engaged in governing and approving transactions, their positions become largely ceremonial. My good friend John Moores once described a crop of regents as “furniture.” They were there for the administration to sit on and gave few matters their thorough attention.
Finally, when it comes to selecting a president, the board relies on “shared governance.” This means that all segments of the UC family participate in the recruitment and selection of the president. This is sort of like designing a camel by committee. Shared governance gives the faculty considerable influence in the selection, and the faculty invariably insists on someone who commands respect as a scholar. Yet, scholars are not especially known for their administrative skills. UC and many of its campuses are often administered by presidents who distinguished themselves in the lab or the classroom, but have little idea about how to effectively manage a major corporation. A multibillion-dollar corporation needs a top-flight administrator, not a scholar, as its president.
In short, Bob Dynes is not the major problem; he is only symptomatic of a deeper problem. Nothing short of a major restructuring of UC’s system of governance will right the course of this great institution.
Ward Connerly is a former Regent of the University of California, Chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, and a 2005 recipient of the prestigious Bradley Prize for his defense of the American ideals of freedom and equality.