Sviggum’s roles ruled a conflict of interest

He must now choose between his grad school fellowship and his regents spot.

by Conor Shine

Steve Sviggum has a choice to make.
The newly elected regent can either keep his unpaid spot on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Board of Regents or continue his $80,000 fellowship with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, but not both.
The ultimatum was handed down by a committee of three regents who found a conflict of interest stemming from SviggumâÄôs dual roles. Sviggum said he would accept the committeeâÄôs ruling, but that he didnâÄôt agree with it.
âÄúIâÄôm extremely disappointed,âÄù he told the committee. âÄúI think the roles are manageable. I think theyâÄôre exclusive of each other. I think the facts point to that.âÄù
The boardâÄôs code of ethics defines conflicts of interest as any situation in which a financial interest could impair a regentâÄôs judgment or objectivity. It does not expressly prohibit University employees from serving on the board.
Board chairman Clyde Allen was quick to point out that the committee found no wrongdoing on SviggumâÄôs part. But SviggumâÄôs involvement in budget, salary and policy decisions as a regent could impact his role at Humphrey and create numerous potential conflicts, Allen said.
âÄúI think you are eminently qualified,âÄù Allen said. âÄúThe problem is whether the two positions can exist together.âÄù
Normally, regents recuse themselves from decisions that present a conflict, but the on-going nature of SviggumâÄôs role at the University would have made the situation unmanageable, Allen said.
Sviggum said he hasnâÄôt decided which position he will choose and didnâÄôt answer questions after the hearing.
If he resigns as a regent, Gov. Mark Dayton will pick his replacement.
After teaching classes for several years as an adjunct professor, Sviggum was named a legislative fellow in February âÄî a part-time position that came with a pay raise and added responsibilities to fundraise and possibly write a book.
Later that month, Sviggum was also one of three new regents appointed to the board by the Legislature, where he had previously spent nearly 30 years as a representative and later as Speaker of the House.
An investigation was launched into SviggumâÄôs roles March 8 and involved multiple meetings among the committee, Sviggum and the University General Counsel.
University faculty and staff also weighed in on the issue through emails and phone calls.
Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy wrote in a letter that allowing Sviggum to keep both jobs would undermine the UniversityâÄôs conflict of interest policy in the eyes of faculty and staff.
âÄúShould a dual standard be established for senior leadership âĦ efforts to satisfy our institutional ethical responsibilities will be seriously âÄî perhaps irreparably âÄî damaged,âÄù Mulcahy wrote.
Professor Larry Jacobs, SviggumâÄôs supervisor at Humphrey, wrote in support of Sviggum, citing his âÄúinvaluable contributionsâÄù and encouraged the committee to find a way for him to serve in both roles.