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COMMENTARY: Clueless WSU Board of Regents needs a makeover that should begin with Jack Thompson replacing Mike Worthy

WSU REGENT Mike Worthy's tone deaf comments during the public comment portion of Friday's Board of Regents meeting illustrated powerfully why the status quo in Pullman needs to be shaken up. Despite weeks -- and even years -- of large, billowing red flags, Worthy actually stated that the WSU Conduct Board has worked fine for decades, that he's not convinced the system is broken.

His words were so removed from the reality of the situation that fellow regent Ron Sims, under his breath, muttered "Well I am" before Worthy finished the "n" on broken.

Worthy is a loyal Cougar who has served the university in many volunteer capacities over many years. He has been a regent since 2006.

And time, very clearly, has passed him by.

A fine man, no doubt, but he's the epitome of the ol' boys club. The word clueless wouldn't begin to describe his lack of understanding around the Robert Barber case or how badly his hand-picked new president, Kirk Schulz, has bungled the handling of it.

Mike Worthy did us all a favor last Friday. He illustrated for all of Cougar Nation to see how entrenched and detached the Board of Regents truly is.

IRONICALLY, THE BARBER CASE also has delivered, front and center, the type of enlightened and thoughtful leadership that one would expect on a board of regents.

His name is Jack Thompson. The lifelong, indefatigable goodwill ambassador of Washington State has been a powerful voice of reason in the Barber case from the start. 

Here's something you probably don't know about Jack: In 2003, then-Washington governor Gary Locke asked him to join the WSU Board of Regents. But as the process unfolded, the Throwin’ Samoan came to a sad yet inescapable conclusion: he had too many other commitments to give the job its proper due. So he bowed out.

An ol' boy would have taken the job because an ol' boy views the role as more of an honorary, rubber stamp, type of position. Not so with a guy like Jack Thompson.

Today, 13 years after he turned down Gov. Locke's invitation, Thompson needs to be appointed to the WSU Board of Regents and Mike Worthy needs to resign to make room.

Forget that Jack Thompson is a football legend. He's a guy who grew up in truly humble circumstances and used sports as a vehicle to propel himself to success in business. Never once along the way has he forgotten his roots -- he gives back to his community and to his university in tireless fashion.

And best of all, he's fully engaged. He knows what's going on. 

You'd never catch Jack Thompson being tone deaf in front of a crowded room of students, parents and concerned citizens.

But the public comment portion of last Friday's regents meeting could charitably be described as calamitous for the status quo, and Worthy served as the sorry standard bearer for the ineptitude.

Granted, it can be a difficult path that regents travel. There are multiple, sometimes diametrically opposed points of view to take into account on issues that can be more gray than black and white. There is no salary, but there are politics. In short, the job isn't for everyone.

But it should, always, be about right and wrong - political considerations be damned.  After watching the Barber situation unfold, it doesn't feel that "right" is anywhere close to where we've landed.

I’ve known Jack Thompson for many years and if there is someone more in tune with fundamental fairness, someone who has a deeper love and respect for Washington State and its Cougars, I’d love to make his or her acquaintance.

Given the mess the university has created for itself, I believe that if Jack was called upon to serve as a regent, he would say yes. I came to that conclusion in part by considering his midnight ride to Pullman.

And here's another reason why Jack would be a fresh addition to the regents. He's Samoan. The current make-up of the regents doesn't come close to reflecting the diversity of the student body. Of the nine, non-student members of the board, eight (89 percent) are white. Yet 29 percent of the students on the Pullman campus are multicultural.

The governor appoints regents to six-year terms with the consent of the state senate. Mike Worthy's term doesn't expire for two more years. That's unfortunate. Two other regents see their terms expire in 2017 and a third's expired in 2015 but continues “pending reappointment or until a new member is appointed by the Governor."

One way or another, the reshaping of the WSU Board of Regents can begin immediately.  And one name needs to sit atop the list of replacements: Jack Thompson.


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