The removal of Pat Williams from the Montana Board of Regents on Thursday fired up bloggers, leaving some to celebrate the vote and others saying it stank of partisan politics.
On a 26-23 vote, the Montana Senate elected to remove Williams from the board, with all 26 votes coming from Republicans. The move pleased the followers of egriz.com, a social media forum dedicated to University of Montana athletics.
Brint Wahlberg, a Missoula real estate agent, launched a petition through egriz asking the Senate to block Williams’ confirmation to the board.
Wahlberg spent weeks gathering signatures and lobbying legislators, and he testified against Williams’ confirmation before the Senate Education Committee two weeks ago.
“We’re encouraged to see our concerns – Williams being a regent – echoed with the senators we talked with,” Wahlberg said. “We took issue with his comments, the timing and the follow-up. We feel the Senate made the right decision.”
In a New York Times story printed just before UM quarterback Jordan Johnson went on trial for rape (he was acquitted), Williams used the word “thugs” to describe certain members of the University of Montana football team. Williams said he was referring to only a half-dozen student-athletes charged with assault, burglary, rape and other crimes.
Members of the Associated Students of the University of Montana weren’t as pleased as Wahlberg, saying Williams’ experience had made him the right appointment for the post.
Student leaders said Williams had received strong support from UM students, who had launched their own petition seeking his appointment. They said partisan politics blocked his confirmation.
“It’s really disappointing that our representatives chose partisan politics over advocating and standing up for students,” said Topher Williams, a former ASUM senate member and current UM student.
“I felt this was the one thing the Senate could agree on and do well for Montana’s students,” he added. “It was disheartening the Senate couldn’t pull it together and do what was right for students.”
Aylinn Inmon, a UM student who launched a petition to see Williams confirmed to the board, said Williams stood up for women and a stronger education system.
“It’s a sad day for Montana students when politicians prevent our fiercest advocate and the most qualified candidate from representing us on the board of regents – only for political reasons. Pat stood up for women, student safety and better education. We’re all proud of that.”
Regents are appointed by the governor to serve on the board. Williams had been appointed last year by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Gov. Steve Bullock’s office on Friday didn’t offer a time frame on when it planned to appoint a replacement.
The Board of Regents and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education had little to say after the Senate’s vote, nor did they comment on Bullock’s next move, or how he’d replace the ousted regent.
Williams’ profile had already been removed Friday morning from the Montana University System’s website noting Board of Regents members.
“We respect and work within the process whereby the governor and the Senate determine the composition of the Board (of Regents),” said Kevin McRae, communications director for the Montana University System. “We work with and respect whatever prerogatives the governor and the Senate exercise.”
Missoula, home to the University of Montana – the state’s largest university – currently has no representation on the Board of Regents. Now down to six members, the board includes two regents from Billings, two from Bozeman and one each from Anaconda and Havre.
McRae said regents don’t represent certain schools or districts, but rather, they serve the state at large. In contrast, McRae noted, members of the Legislature represent constituents in their home districts.
“Each regent is a regent over every institution in the system,” McRae said. “Traditionally, governors and the Legislature have considered geographic balance, but there is no institutional designation to regent stewardship.”