The newest member of the Iowa Board of Regents, who faces confirmation by the Iowa Senate, took an hour of vigorous questioning Monday from Democrats on the Senate Education Committee.
Dr. Michael Richards has been serving on the board in an interim capacity, replacing retiring Regent Mary Andringa.
Minority Democrats probed Richards’s views on conservative legislation under consideration in the GOP- controlled Senate, which would affect the universities.
Richards says he does not agree with a Republican proposal to allow students, staff, and faculty to come to campus armed.
“The safety officers are armed,” Richards said. “I think that’s working and I’d like to keep it that way.”
Richards said he opposes another GOP bill to eliminate tenure on campus. He said a Republican proposal to hire faculty based on political affiliation would be “virtually impossible.”
Another bill would ban research on fetal tissue at the University of Iowa.
“As a practicing physician for 22 years, I support medical research,” Richards said.
Democrats questioned how vigorously Richards has fought for more funding for the universities during his interim appointment.
After the meeting Richards said he was surprised no one asked about ISU President Steven Leath’s private use of a university plane.
He downplayed the controversy.
“I think it was a learning process for everybody,” Richards said. “I don’t think there were any policies violated but I think we need to work on that a little bit,” Richards added.
The board did not sanction Leath after an audit questioned dozens of flights the president took on two university planes.
Richards praised the work of the Regents selection committee in choosing new UNI President Mark Nook.
“For whatever lacking there was in the prior search, I think this search process was exemplary,” Richards said.
Richards is referring to the controversial search for new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld in 2015.
Richards is one of five Republicans on the board which has one Democrat and three independents.
He said he has no interest in leading the board after President Bruce Rastetter steps down when his term concludes at the end of April