Editorial: Politics should be kept out of Regents confirmations

Editorial Board

While we students were away on Spring Break and Ames was a little more calm than usual, Gov. Terry Branstad’s three nominees to the Iowa Board of Regents appeared before the Iowa Senate’s Education Committee for a routine interview in which senators could ask them questions about their qualifications. Those three nominees were Craig Lang, current president of the Board of Regents; Subhash Sahai, a Webster City doctor; and Robert Cramer, a businessman from Grimes.

Interestingly, the Senate committee recommended that the full Senate confirm Sahai, a Democrat, as a new member of the board but did not recommend that Lang or Cramer, both of whom are Republicans, be confirmed.

The committee’s decision not to recommend Lang’s confirmation is not far out of this world. The past few years have seen the Board of Regents fraught with controversy over Regents member Bruce Rastetter’s involvement with his former company’s plans for developing a large amount of land in Tanzania, and in the past few months the regulations on Iowa State’s Harkin Institute of Public Policy have ballooned into accusations that Lang and Rastetter want to restrict academic freedom.

The treatment of Cramer’s hearing and the rationale offered for not recommending his confirmation, however, is absurd.

When the senators of the Education Committee questioned Cramer, what caught attention is their emphasis on his social conservatism — especially his opposition to legal accommodations for homosexual behavior. “Over the last decade, a lot of people — let’s say — evolved in their views with regard to sexual orientation and gay rights. I was not persuaded today that he has,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames).

To top it all off, student leaders at the three regent universities in Iowa — including the president and vice president of the ISU Government of the Student Body, Jared Knight and Katie Brown — wrote a letter to all the members of the Iowa Senate urging them to not confirm Cramer’s nomination.

The Board of Regents governs Iowa’s three public universities, including Iowa State. But look around you: How much intolerance is there directed at one sexual orientation or another? How much of that intolerance is due to policy? How much of it is due to individuals’ attitudes that can be changed only through moral suasion?

If sexual orientation truly is a matter of a person’s private life, and if public bodies such as the Board of Regents should have no role in governing it, then let it be so. The members of the Board of Regents and applicants for nomination to it must be allowed to concern themselves with governing the regent universities in Iowa rather than covering themselves in a cloak of political correctness. The current atmosphere of paranoia around Cramer’s beliefs is premature. If ever there was a litmus test, this is it.

Context is important. Regardless of Cramer’s previous political opposition to expanding anti-discrimination laws to include gays and lesbians or his opposition to same-sex marriage, the Board of Regents has little to do with promoting or working against acceptance of and opportunity for homosexuals. Even if it can do so, the Regents’ pond is small. State-level rules supersede those of the Board of Regents. Given that structural attribute, why all the fuss?