Sviggum chooses regents spot over Humphrey job

The new regent will give up an $80,000 fellowship to correct a conflict of interest.

Steve Sviggum will remain on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents and give up his fellowship at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Sviggum, who was appointed to the board in February, has been at the center of a conflict of interest inquiry stemming from his two roles at the school.

In a letter sent to board leaders Sunday, Sviggum said he was disappointed to give up teaching but “serving the best interests of the University of Minnesota is my unquestioned priority.”

Last week, an investigating group of three regents found that holding an unpaid spot on the board and a paid position at Humphrey School was a conflict of interest and asked Sviggum to give up one of the roles. He will likely be allowed to continue teaching until the end of the semester.

The investigation found no wrongdoing on Sviggum’s part, regents Chairman Clyde Allen said. The two positions were simply incompatible.

As a regent, Sviggum would have been involved with decisions that could have affected him as an employee, including approving budgets and reviewing educational policies.

“I think it’s basically been resolved,” Allen said. “I think an honorable man made a tough decision. We appreciate that.”

Allen said the board will look at its policies and consider adding language that bars University employees from being appointed to the board in the future

Sviggum, a former state House speaker, has taught classes at the University since 2007. But a new contract signed in early February expanded his duties, giving him an $80,000 salary to teach, fundraise, write editorials and possibly to write a book.

Allen said he’s pleased Sviggum chose to remain on the board and that he brings valuable legislative experience as the University awaits cuts to its state funding. Sviggum’s teaching experience will also be a valuable addition to the board, Allen said

Sviggum said he disagreed with the ruling, but agreed to abide. In the letter, he maintained that a significant difference existed between a fellowship and a professorship because his salary would be privately raised and his position gave him no role in faculty governance.

Larry Jacobs, who leads the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance and who oversaw Sviggum at the Humphrey School, called him a “tremendous colleague” and a “very popular, very effective teacher.”

Jacobs wrote a letter of support to the board during the investigation, encouraging it to find an “appropriate formula” that would allow Sviggum to serve in both roles.

Sviggum helped provide the school with insight and access to the legislative process, Jacobs said in an interview, and Sviggum’s classes were so popular that students often had to be turned away.

“It’s a big loss for us, there’s no doubt about that,” Jacobs said.“It’s a testament to Steve Sviggum and the kind of person he is that he’s given up this teaching position to provide even more service to the University.”

The board’s next full meeting is in May after the end of the semester, and Sviggum — who currently teaches one class, “Governing — Minnesota Style,” — is expected to continue teaching until then.

“I certainly hope we can make it possible for him to finish his teaching,” Allen said. The regents office will meet with Sviggum and the Office of the General Counsel to iron out details that would let him stay in the classroom until May. Allen said, “I suspect there will be little problem with that.”