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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 24, 2018

Regent resigns following frequent absences

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Jun 11, 2018

After missing the last two Board of Regents meetings — which included votes to increase tuition and fees for students at Iowa’s public universities — Regent Subhash Sahai turned in his resignation Friday.

In a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Webster City doctor said his decision to leave before the end of his term stemmed from a desire to spend more time with his family and patients.

“It has been quite a challenging, gratifying, and learning experience,” he wrote. “Due to an ever-changing environment in providing care for my patients, needing to spend more time with my family, and after much soul-searching, I have decided to resign from this illustrious board.”

Sahai, appointed to the unpaid board in 2013 by then-Gov. Terry Branstad, was in the last year of a six-year term that expires in April 2019.

But before he quit, Sahai’s recent absences from board meetings had him close to being “deemed to have submitted a resignation,” according to state rules.

Sahai has missed half the full board meetings in 2018, including this week’s three-day meeting in Cedar Falls.

Rules governing Iowa’s boards and commissions state that a person effectively resigns if he or she misses three or more consecutive regular meetings, as long as the meetings are at least 30 days apart.

That means Sahai would have been deemed to have resigned if he missed the next board meeting in August — a fact The Gazette reported online Friday before his departure was announced.

“Regent Sahai has been a valuable member of the Board of Regents,” board President Mike Richards said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that he will not be able to complete his term, but we respect his decision. He has served this board with distinction and we wish him well.”

Sahai was the board’s only racial or ethnic minority. At times, his statements put him at odds with some of the other regents. In 2015, he said he was “sad” to learn five other regents met privately with Bruce Harreld, who subsequently was hired as UI president. In 2016, he criticized then-regents President Bruce Rastetter for reacting “somewhat with a cavalier attitude” and not telling other regents that then-Iowa State University President Steven Leath had damaged a state plane when flying it.

Sahai, a family practice physician who also holds the title of clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family Practice at the UI Carver College of Medicine, did not respond to requests for comment.

Regents oversee Iowa’s three public universities and the state’s two special schools. They are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

State rules involving board and committee membership also disqualify members for missing more than half the regular meetings in a year, beginning either July 1 or Jan. 1.

Since his appointment five years ago, Sahai has missed at least one day of 12 meetings requiring full board attendance — many of which last two days — including all of two of the four meetings so far in 2018 and at least part of seven of the 17 full board meetings held since the start of 2017.

In all of 2017, Sahai missed at least one day of five of the 13 full board meetings, according to board meeting minutes.

For comparison, Regent Larry McKibben — appointed at the same time — has missed one meeting over his five-plus years on the board. Regent Milt Dakovich, also appointed in 2013, has missed two days.

The regent enterprise budget for 2018 tops $5.8 billion, including $1.7 billion in general operating funds. Of that total, nearly 65 percent comes from tuition and fees and about 31 percent from state appropriations — meaning tax dollars.

It is against a backdrop of a declining ratio of state support that regents have been approving tuition increases, including one earlier this week that will affect every student at Iowa’s public universities.

Sahai was absent for both the first and second considerations of the tuition rates and also of a student fee increase.

As part of their duties, regents serve on subcommittees that make recommendations to the board on a variety of topics.

Sahai served on the board’s UI Hospitals and Clinics Committee. Since UI Health Care revealed in September it missed budget — and was starting the new budget year with a $7.2 million deficit — Sahai missed three of the meetings.

The last regent to resign was Mary Andringa in April 2016, saying she underestimated the time commitment needed. She had been appointed just one year earlier.

Before that, Nicole Carroll, 60, resigned in November 2014 after her family moved to Texas.

Upon receiving resignations, the governor appoints someone to serve the remaining years — or months, in this case — left in the vacated term.

Iowa Code requires the nine-member board have political and gender balance — meaning no party or gender can have more than five representatives. That means Sahai’s replacement must be male and either a Democrat or — like him — have no party affiliation.

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