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Meet The Regents
New York's Education Policy Makers
Compiled by Marie Holmes

If you have visited a museum, attended school or seen a doctor or other medical professional in New York State, your experience has been impacted by the work of the Board of Regents, the policy making body of the University of the State of New York, the State’s unique integrated system of education. As the following Board members can attest, the Regents do much more than mandate high school examinations.


Harry Phillips, 3rd, who also serves as Managing Director of financial services group Winged Keel in New York City, was appointed in March, 2000. He has served on the board of various non-profit organizations, including Westchester Community College. As a Regent, he serves on the Higher Education, Professions, VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) and Audit committees. A current hot topic facing the Higher Education committee is teacher education programs. The Professions committee “is trying to make sure the public is well-served by the 39 licensed professions,” says Regent Phillips. Professional licenses granted by the State University of New York (the Regents) include physicians, pharmacists, midwives, massage therapists, landscapers and shorthand reporters. The VESID committee deals with Special Education in the entire state as well as all other services for persons with disabilities. The Audit committee, which performs audits of particular districts and programs, “is concerned with budget imbalances in the school districts,” according to Phillips.

He believes that some of the more pressing issues now facing the Regents are: dropout rates, especially in urban areas, test requirements for earning a high school diploma, and financing VESID efforts and the testing required by all states under President Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation.

The most significant action that the Board has taken during his tenure, says Phillips, “was the adoption of new standards that energized the education system in New York State.” In recent years, the Regents diploma, which high-achieving students obtained by passing a number of Regents exams, has been phased out. All high school students in the state will now have to pass five Regents exams in core curriculum areas to earn a diploma in 2003.

“The potential of having all institutions that are allied to education under one body, like the Regents, is staggering. We need to exploit the connections better,” says Phillips. “If we can be more flexible on testing, I see a bright future for the Regents.”


Charlotte Frank ended her term as Regent in April, 2002. She came to the Board after having been a teacher, supervisor and then administrator in the New York City schools, serving for 25 years as executive director of curriculum and instruction. She is currently a Senior VP at McGraw-Hill Publishers and works with the education division.

During her tenure, she served on the committee that set the new standards for career and technical education diplomas. Frank praises the flexibility of these specialized courses of study and says that career and technical education programs help students see the connections between academic subjects and career and technical issues, or everyday life. She was also with the Regents when they raised the bar for high school students across the state, changing policy so that all students must pass multiple Regents exams in order to earn their diplomas. Like many of her colleagues, she credits the standards movement with saving some students from others’ low expectations. “The data was that there were more Special Ed kids passing Regents exams than had been taking them before.”

The Regents take their duties and responsibilities seriously, says Frank. They “do a good job of moving around the state so that they can think about the policies that are designed and developed.” The concerns of students and schools in poor areas of the Bronx, for example, aren’t quite the same as those of students in upstate towns that have struggled economically since industry left the area. One Superintendent in an upstate area with plenty of farmland mentioned to the Regents that his parents worried about their children going off to college because they were afraid that they would leave the farm and never come back.

“The dreams are the same, but the issues are very different . . . Everybody wants their kids to be healthy, responsible, happy people,” says Frank, noting that New York has traditionally been a gateway for people looking to fulfill their dreams in the United States.

The newly-required exams, she says, test for “skills that are needed to build up the city, state and nation,” so that New York does not need to look outside its borders for a competent workforce.

The mission of the Board of Regents, says Frank, relates to “the quality of life in the state.”


Geraldine Chapey was appointed to the Board of Regents four years ago, following a long and varied career in education. She began as an elementary school teacher and continued to earn licenses and degrees, including certifications in speech pathology and administration and a doctorate in administration and public policy from Fordham University. She was a professor and a dean at St. John’s University and has authored numerous articles, books and curriculum and currently teaches at City College. In sum, says Chapey, “I’m steeped in education—it’s my life.”

Regent Chapey serves on the Finance, Higher Education and VESID committees. She characterizes the Regents as “policy makers and accountability assessors,” who work in close collaboration with those who implement their policies: the state, federal and local governments. “For our work to be successful it’s not limited to a group of Regents sitting in a room making decisions.”

The standards movement penetrates every level of education, Chapey says, from pre-kindergarten through graduate school and professional certifications. The Board is currently working on revising the requirements to earn certification for leadership positions, such as principals and superintendents, within the state’s school systems. These new regulations will then force graduate programs that prepare such professionals to be reevaluated, as they will eventually have to re-register with the State Education Department.

Since Chapey joined the Board, the Regents have toughened the standards for teacher education, forcing colleges and universities to reregister their teacher education programs. College presidents became responsible for oversight of such programs, and “came by dozens to Regents meetings,” according to Chapey.

Projects in development include a student information system that would allow school officials to track students within the state system, to use when students have transferred or moved.

“What we have been doing is forerunner to a lot of what the national government is expecting,” says Chapey, claiming that New York has held the highest education standards in the entire country since 1984, which she attributes to its unique immigration patterns and new immigrants’ dependence on public education.


Robert M. Bennett, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, was first appointed in 1995 and again in 2000. Since 1975, he has taught at the graduate level both at Niagara University and SUNY Buffalo. He is the founder of Family Support Centers, which places health and social services in schools, and Success by Six, an early childhood education program, both in Western New York.

Key educational issues in New York today, as presented in the Regents’ “performance Agreement” for Commissioner of Education Robert P. Mills, include: implementing policies, such as a statewide student record system, that will help more students meet testing benchmarks, helping school districts that are struggling with finances and poor student performance, and strengthening the internal governance of the Regents and the Department of Education.

The Board is currently reviewing the standards for school principals. School leaders, says Bennett, must “understand governance issues, poverty’s impact and the nature of families.”

Some of the important policies that the Regents have drafted during his tenure, Bennett says, include: career and technical education options, universal pre-kindergarten, teacher preparation and continuing education requirements, inclusion for special education students, graduation requirements, the New Centuries Libraries proposal and the nursing shortage study and subsequent recommendations.

Regent Bennett believes that the unique structure of the University of the State of New York, singular among U.S. institutions and governing bodies, “has the greatest potential to provide a comprehensive array of education and training services to all seeking educational opportunities.” In line with the Regents’ mission to “raise the level of learning for all New Yorkers,” Bennett would like to see “greater focus on high need districts, including more effective partnerships with related State agencies such as Health, Mental Health, Children and Families.” Another goal is to “have all children reading at grade level by third grade, thereby eliminating all level ones on the fourth grade ELA” (English Language Assesment).”


James Dawson was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1993 and was reappointed in 2000. He serves as a Distinguished Service Professor in the Center for Earth and Environmental Science, State University of New York, College at Plattsburgh. Dawson has taught earth science majors, geology majors, environmental science majors, and general education undergraduate courses every year since he joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor on September in 1970. As a Regent he represents the Fourth Judicial District of New York State which includes Washington, Schenectady, Montgomery, Fulton, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Warren and Saratoga counties. These counties constitute about 29 percent of the land surface area of the State of New York with districts ranging from under 20 to about 9,000 students. Dawson has visited virtually all of these districts and school

Regent Dawson currently chairs the Regents State Aid Subcommittee, which works with the staff of the State Aid Work Group in the New York State Education Department to formulate a recommendation on the Regents’ state aid to school districts for the Regents’ consideration. After the Regents’ have decided on a proposal (usually at their December meeting) members of the Subcommittee assist the Commissioner and the Department in informing the Division of the Budget and the Legislature about the details of the proposal. In addition, Regent Dawson serves on the Professional Practice Committee, and the Elementary/Middle/Secondary/Continuing Education Committee.

One of the most important issues now facing the Regents, says Dawson, is maintaining adequate funding for school districts as the state economy sputters. “Funding for library systems is also a major concern of our Twenty First Century Libraries proposal,” says Dawson, “and with this year’s serious budget problems, maintaining the existing levels of funding for libraries will also be a priority.”

The fact that the Regents have multiple responsibilities gives them “the capacity to better integrate the policy work of the Board across all of the educational policy arenas in the State,” says Dawson. The Regents’ authority, while spread across a number of areas—K-12, colleges and universities, professional licensing, museums, libraries and other cultural institutions—varies significantly from one area to the next. “Regents’ authority is clearest and most sweeping in the K-12 arena,” says Dawson, while more limited in other spheres. “However,” he adds, “the Regents have had great success with their existing authority because they are able to use what they have to gain the voluntary participation of many of the players across the full range of education arenas.”


Merryl Tisch was appointed to the Board in 1996. Tisch, who holds a M.A. in Education from NYU and is currently working towards her doctoral degree at Columbia University Teachers College, has focused on education for her entire career, having taught first grade, worked in the Jewish yeshiva system and served as president of a not-for-profit organization.

Regent Tisch is chair of the VESID committee and serves on the State Aid committee, which makes recommendations to the legislature about how much aid to give to school districts, the Cultural Education committee, which deals with museums, libraries and other cultural institutions, and the Quality committee, which oversees the internal governing of the Board of Regents.

“New York Sate is probably one of the most segregated states when it comes to providing services for children with disabilities within the school system,” says Tisch, adding that the inclusion movement has taken a hold in the state and that she expects more progress to be made within the coming years. When the Board of Regents raised the testing requirements for high school graduates, “we decided [students with disabilities] should be incorporated into this movement of higher standards,” says Tisch, “and, actually, many of them are performing very well.” For lower-functioning children who may have more severe disabilities, the state has put into place an alternative assessment. Students with disabilities, she affirms, are now receiving the same diplomas that they would have before the policy changed. If they score a certain level on competency tests but are unable to pass the Regents exams, “they get their special ed diploma.” The real draw of including special education students in testing practices as well as general education classrooms, says Tisch, is having “people start to talk about their students’ outcomes rather than whether we’re complying with standards.”

The Regents, says Tisch, “are a unique group and a group that ten years ago was tinkering on the verge of irrelevance,” she says, adding that between then and now, the Regents “really became a force for change.” These days there is less anger directed at the Regents. On the other hand, “I think some people have a harder time with us because we’re not irrelevant,” she adds. “What they’re seeing now is that we are very purposeful about the standards and very thoughtful about the standards.”


Diane O’Neill McGivern is the first nurse to have been appointed to the Board of Regents. She was originally recruited in 1991 to serve the remainder of Dr. Jerry Lustig’s seven year term, and has since been twice re-elected. For the past thirty years, Regent McGivern has worked in higher education both as a professor and an academic administrator.

McGivern is Chair of the Professional Practice committee and Vice-President of the Higher Education committee. The focus of the Professional Practice committee, says McGivern, “is to ensure that New York State citizens have the highest quality, ethical practitioners in a wide range if disciplines.” The committee takes disciplinary action against individual practitioners, communicates with the field and anticipates issues of concern. Some of her past efforts with the Board include having chaired a Blue Ribbon Panel on the future of nursing in the state, which examined the nursing shortage.

McGivern has also chaired task forces on teaching and leadership. The work of her leadership group has grown into recommendations currently being formulated by the Board regarding certification requirements for principals and school administrators. Many people have offered advice about what the Regents and other groups can do “to attract, cultivate and retain good leaders,” says McGivern. “Clearly, recognizing good leaders and supporting them in professional environments is central to improving instruction for students.”

While there are numerous other issues that the Board is currently examining, and “as important as the individual policies are,” McGivern says, “I believe the interconnectedness of our policies is most significant. The relationship of all parts of the University of the State of New York is reflected in policies that link areas like libraries and information technology to curriculum, services to individuals with disabilities and access to higher education.”


James R. Tallon, Jr., was elected by the State Legislature last March to serve a five year term on the Board of Regents. “I’m one of the new kids,” he jokes. While Tallon might be new to the Board and to the world of educational policy, he brings with him years of administrative and political experience. Tallon currently serves as President of the United Hospital Fund, a philanthropic and health services research organization. From 1975 to 1993 he was a member of the New York State Assembly.

Regent Tallon serves on the Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education Committee, the VESID committee, the Cultural Education committee and the sub-committee on State Aid. Each year, Tallon explains, the Regents draft a proposal regarding how much money the state should allocate for the schools and how such funds should be distributed. A number of concerns arise during this process, as might be expected in any equation involving billions of dollars. Like many New Yorkers, Tallon believes that the state financing system needs to be reformed. At the same time, the State Aid committee tries to formulate regulations that are viable in the long term as well as consistent from one year to the next—a delicate balance.

Regent Tallon is optimistic when it comes to New York’s progress on educational reform. He believes that New York is further along than many other states when it comes to complying with the No Child Left Behind regulations, as some New York laws were basically precursors to the more recent federal legislation. The State is also on the right path when it comes to special education, according to Tallon. “I think it’s fair to say that New York is one of the more aggressive states” concerning the provision of services for special needs students, he says, noting that the number of special education students earning diplomas has increased in recent years.

The Regents, Tallon asserts, are a diverse group, both geographically and in terms of professional experience. Tallon hopes to use his own background in State government to help the Regents better understand the Legislature, and vice versa. He would also like to examine ways that health and educational services might be better linked in areas such as early childhood and adolescent development, nutrition and behavioral and psychological issues.

“It’s clear that the future of the state and city’s economy . . . is just anchored in educational achievement,” says Tallon. The predominantly socio-economically determined gaps in the educational system, he says, must not be tolerated. “There’s a societal imperative to just keep advancing this educational agenda.”


Judith Rubin was appointed to the Board in March, 2002. She is Chairman of the Board of Playwrights Horizons, a not-for-profit off-Broadway theater that works with undergraduate theater students at NYU and provides paid internships for young people interested in careers in the arts. Rubin herself has spent most of her career at various arts-related organizations. She has been a Council member of the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, President of the 92nd Street Y, and Vice-President of Theatre Communications Group and Public Radio International.

Regent Rubin serves on the Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education committee, as well as the Cultural Education, Quality and Audits committees.#




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