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Appointees to Iowa Board of Regents say they will be independent in how they handle issues

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Political affiliations will not be a factor when making decisions on the Iowa Board of Regents, three people said on Monday in regard to their recent appointment by Gov. Terry Branstad to serve on the board that oversees the state's three public universities.

Mary Andringa, Patricia Cownie and Rachael Johnson told the Senate Education Committee that they can be independent thinkers in how they approach education issues.

"I would hope that no matter what party affiliation, we're really focused on what's best for our institutions," said Andringa, president and CEO of Vermeer Corporation in Pella and a registered Republican.

Andringa spoke alongside Cownie, who serves on the Board of Trustees at Drake University in Des Moines, and Johnson, a student at the University of Northern Iowa. The three, appointed earlier this month by Branstad, need approval from the Democratic-controlled Senate to formally be on the board.

"We will come with an open mind and fresh eyes," said Cownie, who also responded to comments from Sen. Robert Dvorsky, D-Coralville.

Dvorsky criticized Branstad during the meeting Monday for placing five Republicans on the board. The remaining members would be one Democrat and three Independents.

"That doesn't necessarily reflect the electorate in Iowa. I'm sorry the governor chose to do that," he said.

Branstad's appointments are legal. Current law doesn't allow more than five members of the same political party to serve on the board. Dvorsky said Branstad is not following the spirit of the law.

When asked about Dvorsky's remarks, Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the latest appointments on the nine-member board "were made in accordance with Iowa law regarding party identification and gender balance."

Johnson, who would serve as a student representative with voting privileges, said she likes being a registered Independent.

"I like to judge issues based on their own merit," she said, also in response to Dvorsky.

Lawmakers on the committee also questioned the three about the board's decision last year to change its model for funding Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.

The model would allocate money to the schools based on in-state enrollment. Critics say the move would hurt recruitment of out-of-state students and international students.

Andringa, Cownie and Rachael said they generally support the model as long as it is evaluated periodically to make sure it's working correctly.

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