April 2014
March 31, 2014

Regents selection process questioned

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Three incumbents, from left, Wade Norwood, James Cottrell and Christine Cea, and newcomer Josephine Victoria Finn were elected by the state Legislature to the Board of Regents.
Caption: Three incumbents, from left, Wade Norwood, James Cottrell and Christine Cea, and newcomer Josephine Victoria Finn were elected by the state Legislature to the Board of Regents. Photo by Paul Buckowski.

There was plenty of heat, but not much fire, when all was said and done in this year's contentious election of four Board of Regents members.

Despite a tremendous outcry over the failed rollout of the Regents Reform agenda, the Legislature re-elected three of the four incumbent Regents. After Regent James Jackson suddenly announced he was stepping down the night before the vote, the Legislature elected a last-minute entry, Monticello Village Justice Josephine Finn, to fill the vacant seat.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said the union's spotlight on the issue of accountability certainly raised public awareness about the Regents selection process, which captured more attention than ever before.

"NYSUT will continue to hold the board, the chancellor and the commissioner accountable," Iannuzzi said.

Next year, six seats on the Board of Regents will be up for election, including Chancellor Emeritus Robert Bennett and Regents James Dawson, Harry Phillips, Roger Tilles, Lester Young and Kathleen Cashin.

"As a result of our advocacy, people will be paying attention to what the Regents do — or don't do," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said.

"New York students and educators need Regents who will set sound educational policies and not be a rubber stamp to everything the commissioner proposes."

The Regents in years past were often interviewed unceremoniously in a legislative conference room, with incumbents generally re-elected with little or no controversy.

Not so this year: Regents interviews were held in the large Assembly Parlor with more than two dozen lawmakers in attendance and with plenty of media attention.

A statewide parents' group issued endorsements and NYSUT used its Member Action Center to send letters urging lawmakers to elect Regents who would bring about meaningful change.

Feeling more like congressional confirmation hearings, the Regents interviews featured hours of tough questioning by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. They grilled the incumbents about the State Education Department's botched implementation of Common Core, increased emphasis on standardized testing and more.

More than 20 candidates vied for the four open seats. (Regents are elected on a staggered basis to five-year terms by a joint session of the Legislature in March.)
In the end, the Legislature elected incumbents Wade Norwood of Rochester, Christine Cea of Staten Island and James Cottrell of Brooklyn — all of whom had the backing of their local Assembly members.

Finn, a community activist supported by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Sullivan, was interviewed the day before the vote. A former Sullivan County Community College instructor, Finn was cited for work with at-risk students.

During questioning, Finn acknowledged she did not know much about the Common Core controversy, but said she would be a good listener and learn more.

NYSUT will meet with the new Regent to ensure she understands students' and members' needs.

Lawmakers and editorial writers used the proceedings to make the case for a change in how Regents are selected. "As important as the board is, the election of Regents has become a political joke," according to an Albany Times Union editorial. "Filling seats has become an embarrassingly flawed process ... this isn't just another patronage dump, but where education policy is decided."

While NYSUT will continue to advocate for change in the selection process, the union believes this year's increased attention has made the process more transparent than it's ever been.

"Moving forward, we have the public's and legislators' attention on the Regents election process," Neira said. "Working with our local leaders we will continue to hold Regents accountable. Our goal will be to identify future Regent candidates so there is a large pool of qualified candidates who will be advocates for all our students."

WHO IS MY REGENT?

The Board of Regents comprises 17 members who are elected by the Legislature for five-year terms. One member is elected from each of the state's 13 judicial districts and four members serve at-large. Regents do not receive a salary for serving on the board. To find out who your Regent is, go to www.regents.nysed.gov and click on the map.