The Student Regent
To understand how a student was first appointed to the Iowa Board of Regents, understanding what was happening on college campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s is important. The Vietnam War and the draft sparked fierce debate and protests on campuses around the country. The Kent State shootings, a product of protests against the escalation of the war in Vietnam, resulted in further campus demonstrations all over the United States.
“Rather than accepting what they were told by adults, students began to think a different way,” said Steven Zumbach, student body president at Iowa State University during the 1971-72 academic year and a national officer for Future Farmers of America (FFA) a year earlier. “There was rebellion everywhere.”
The UI witnessed that rebellion first hand in May 1970. Unrest permeated the campus and protests against the US bombing of Cambodia turned to protests against what had happened at Kent State. One week of turmoil led to hundreds of arrests and a National Guard presence in Iowa City.
UI President Willard “Sandy” Boyd, eager to avoid another Kent State, allowed students to end their semesters early and leave campus if they felt unsafe. Thousands took him up on it.
“It was a very unsettling time,” Zumbach said. “Everywhere I went, it seemed like the world was becoming unzipped.”
In the wake of this widespread unrest, students began to demand a seat at the oversight table. Who better to sit in that seat than Zumbach? He had experience at the highest level of student government. His FFA post had introduced him to Governor Robert Ray, and sent him all around the country. This experience had great influence on his term as student body president and later as a regent.
“I was immersed in two environments at an early age; one very conservative with the FFA and one very liberal with the Iowa State student body,” he said. “It gave me a good understanding of how complex the issues of the time could be.”
When a Board of Regents seat opened in March 1973, Governor Ray appointed Zumbach as the first regent in Iowa’s history who was a student. He served until 1977.
The idea of putting a student on the Board was a good one. Good enough that House File 2046, passed in 1988, requires one of the nine members of the Board to be a full-time student at one of Iowa’s public universities. Student regents are appointed to six-year terms with representatives rotating between the UI, Iowa State and UNI.
|Steven Zumbach||West Des Moines||1973-77||ISU, SUI|
|Jacklyn Van Ekeren||Monroe||1985-89||ISU, SUI|
|Aileen Mahood||Ida Grove||1995-97||UNI|
|Jenny Rokes||Cedar Falls||2004-08||UNI|
|Greta Johnson||Le Mars||2008-12||ISU|
|Rachael Johnson||Sioux City||2015-19||UNI|
"It has changed my life," said Rachael Johnson, student regent from 2015-2019. "Having a student's perspective, a student's voice, on the Board is valuable. It was a pleasure and an honor to serve as that voice."
Twelve students, including Zumbach, Johnson and current regent Zack Leist, have served as that voice.
“It is an honor to serve the people of Iowa and to be a part of the Board,” Leist said. “It’s a great responsibility to live up to and I am privileged to be able to represent not just students, but all Iowans.”
That distinction - representing all Iowans, not just students - came up early in Zumbach’s tenure. At his first meeting, in fact. The Regents were discussing the parietal rule, which requires freshmen to live in on-campus dormitories for their first year. This was unpopular with students.
“Students at the time didn’t want to be restricted by rules,” Zumbach said. “But something Governor Ray told me stuck with me then, and throughout my tenure.”
Ray believed it was important for the Board of Regents to be absolutely independent. To represent all of Iowa. Indeed, this is one of the foundations of the Board.
“’You do not have a constituency’ he told me. ‘You leave your biases at the door.’ I understood it, but I didn’t know how difficult that would be.”
UI students packed the room for the vote, curious to see if the new student representative on the Board would vote no. They were disappointed.
“[Board Executive Secretary] R. Wayne Richey and I discussed the rule,” Zumbach said. “He said ‘the state universities are about access and many students can’t go to college without access to affordable housing. It’s not just for students now, but for future students too.’ I kept that with me.”
Zumbach especially notes that his experience with board leadership and the governor during his formative years shaped his life for years to come.
“Stan Redeker analyzed the issues in a nonpartisan, thoughtful way,” he said. “Remarkable man. Having the chance to work with Redeker, Richey, Governor Ray and all the presidents was one of the great honors of my life.”