The University of Utah's earnest citizen-advocate speaks up and out on behalf of higher education.
By Byron Sims
Jim Jardine is having fun. The University of Utah alumnus-trustee, who joined the board in 1987 and has been its chair since 1989, acknowledges he's enjoying his service even more than he anticipated and he relished getting the gubernatorial appointment to begin with.
The past eight years, which encompass the terms of two U of U presidents and now include the search for a successor to Arthur Smith, have been full of "very interesting challenges," says Jardine BA'71, a graduate of Harvard Law School. "It's been challenging in a positive way."
The scope of his work as a trustee, and specifically as board chair, includes helping the University's president succeed through a close relationship based on candor. "Presidents I've worked with have been interested in having regular dialogue about issues," he says, "and I talk to the president or staff members three or four times a week outside of formal meetings. The environment for such communication has to be the president's confidence in my loyalty both to the person and the institution, one in which we can express ourselves freely and know that the discussion will remain between us.
"If the president ever lost confidence in the integrity of the process," Jardine observes, "that kind of informal counseling would shut down fast. I've always felt I could speak candidly" not that my input has always carried the day."
Early in his first term as a trustee, Jardine was invited to become a very visible part of the leadership of the 1988 campaign opposing a Utah tax initiative, a proposed rollback that would have virtually gutted university funding. "I ended up taking as much time over a six to eight month period as anything I've done in connection with my service to the U," he notes. "[The campaign] was particularly satisfying, not just because we won, but that we recognized early on that an educational and enlightenment process with the electorate needed to take place. We energized a number of constituencies to be a part of the education process, and I think we articulated the role of higher education in a way that caused voters to believe that notwithstanding the burden of taxation, these were important missions for the state to undertake. It was one of the most important things I've been involved in."
In another area of challenge, Jardine, a managing director at the Salt Lake law firm of Ray, Quinney and Nebeker, points to the "tremendous changes in the health care environment in terms of federal legislation and in local market concentration of managed health care." Indeed, Jardine feels his three-term appointment as a U of U trustee"as well as that of colleague Lou Callister" was to provide continuity in this area. They've both been involved in deliberations and studies about the future of University Hospital. "If you measure what we've done by time devoted, this has been a very significant part of the board's work," Jardine says. "It's caused us to focus on the long-term mission of the Health Sciences Center, including the School of Medicine, which I think is one of the crown jewels of the state."
Following Arthur Smith's decision to take the presidency at the University of Houston (Continuum, Winter 1996-97), Jardine involved himself directly, for the first time, in the University's formal presentation to the Utah Legislature's Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
"The trustees have felt that the case for higher education needs to be made as strongly, thoughtfully, and articulately as can be done for the Legislature and other constituents. So in recent years there's been an increase in the time and effort spent by trustees at the Legislature on behalf of the U, an initiative that had been discussed, thought out, then implemented. Typically the contact has been informal, and where we have trustees who are skilled in such activity it makes sense to use them.
"I expect we'll continue to see trustees playing a significant role in that area," Jardine continues, "depending on the board's makeup and the individual skills of its members. The president, however, will always be the primary spokesperson."
By statute, the board of trustees cannot initiate action but only approve or vote down the items brought before it by the president. The term "rubber stamp" is sometimes applied synonymously, and cynically. Jardine, however, sees it this way: "The way in which trustees function is much stronger and much broader than one might think. Most presidents want feedback and perspective about important, sometimes controversial decisions. Trustees play a unique and critical role in the success of any president. They are regularly asked about a president's character, personality, and performance. The enthusiasm with which they respond begins to affect the public perception of a president.
"It would be a recipe for failure if a president got substantially at odds with his or her board," Jardine stresses. "It's important that the issues trustees care about get on the president's agenda."
Before his departure from the U, former president Smith had expressed frustration with the so-called dual governance in Utah higher education, a structure which includes boards of trustees at individual institutions as well as a State Board of Regents. Smith felt that presidents lacked direct access to the regents, which restricted a personal presentation of their views.
After speaking on this issue at a recent forum, Jardine further expands on his views. "The structure was set up when the state system of higher education wasn't nearly as complex as it is today," he says. "The structure should evolve to address changes in the system the structure is meant to serve. Today, you have more regents looking after the interests of institutions in their geographical areas. Concurrently, there has been a shift of power in the Legislature to counties other than Salt Lake, which doesn't have the dominance it had two decades ago.
"Couple that with the enrollment pressures we feel in the system, and there is a kind of pressure to treat all institutions equally, or just to fund enrollment growth. In that environment, the critical mission of the U of U as a flagship-Research I institution, and all that means for the state, can get lost. One of the most important challenges for the system is not losing the ability to provide world-class education because of a ėleveling' influence.
"Even if we try to change the structure," Jardine notes, "the critical pieces are still the individuals. Systems with flaws"and there are areas for improvement in ours"can be made to work if people pull together."
In two other areas, Jardine sees both peril and potential. First, he says "there's never enough money and we can't do all the things we'd like. (The U) does a tremendous job of leveraging its state-appropriated money, for which the faculty gets great credit and high marks for entrepreneurial initiatives in finding alternative funding sources. But there must be a certain amount of money to accomplish the leveraging, and that's where the institution can be put at risk."
While Jardine acknowledges the "logical and appropriate" growth of community colleges, he adds that "it's easy to have the funding of enrollment growth dominate one's thinking." But, he warns, "that can't consume so much of the higher education budget that we lose the ability to deliver a world-class education at a Research I university.
"If we do that," Jardine states, "we will have broken faith with the young people of the state who believe they can get one (at the U). If they can't compete in a shrinking world, we will have defrauded them in one sense and we will also begin to erode the competitiveness of Utah businesses.
"Thirty years from now," Jardine says, reiterating a point he made at the Legislature, "I believe the intellectual infrastructure of the state will be more important than the physical infrastructure."
Secondly, he sees the establishment of a Western Governors University "the so-called virtual university with the computer as its cornerstone (Continuum cover story, Summer 1996)" as a "bold, unsettling in some respects, but very creative approach to education." "We need not be afraid of it," says Jardine, "and we should not become preoccupied with what we can criticize about it. We need to take advantage of it."
For this fifth-generation Utahn who concedes a "genetic love for the state and all that it means," taking advantage of opportunities has become a hallmark (he is also general outside counsel for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games). And if a recipe for "fun" can be found amid a marinade of analytical study, the spice of spirited debate, and a whipping up of public opinion along with measures of intuition, tact, vision, and energy, three-term trustee Jardine has produced a plateful.
Six months into his retirement, founding editor J. Byron Sims BS'57 makes his Continuum freelance debut.