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New Regents chair brings passion for community

Beeson and the new vice-chair, Dean Johnson, were elected in a rare split vote.
Newly elected Board of Regents chairman Richard Beeson will replace two-term regent Linda Cohen after a controversial 8-to-4 vote.
Image by Amanda Snyder
Newly elected Board of Regents chairman Richard Beeson will replace two-term regent Linda Cohen after a controversial 8-to-4 vote.

On a recent Friday afternoon at Park Midway Bank in St. Paul, Richard Beeson beamed proudly over a small coffee bar in the lobby.

Beeson spearheaded the project to build the coffee bar — where people can stop in and buy drinks for a suggested donation — with the hope that it would bring passersby into the bank.

Though the bank doesn’t make any money on the coffee — proceeds go to various charities — its value lies in community building.

Beeson hopes to carry that community-building attitude forward during the next two years as he chairs the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. 

The regents welcomed their new leadership this week after uncommon controversy during last month’s biennial election.

In an 8-to-4 vote, Beeson, a University alumnus, replaced two-term regent Linda Cohen. Dean Johnson replaced David Larson as vice chair.

Regents Laura Brod, Patricia Simmons, David McMillan and Larson cast the four dissenting votes, saying they had concerns about the process used to select the new leaders.

“Since I have concerns with the process, I do not believe I can be confident with the outcome,” Simmons said at the meeting.

Larson also expressed concern that he had not been “given more consideration for [a leadership] position.”

Regent Clyde Allen, who headed the committee to choose the nominees, said at the meeting that this year’s procedure followed those used in the past.

“It was one of those difficult times we’ve had to decide which people fit best right at this time for the needs of the University,” he said.

Dissenting votes are unusual on the board. At the June meeting, only one other agenda item garnered a dissenting vote — Brod voted against President Eric Kaler’s operating budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

Despite the split vote, Beeson said he feels comfortable taking over as chair.

“All the regents have been extremely supportive of my election,” he said. “It’s a board that will disagree, but there is a high trust level among the members.”

The board will go on its annual retreat July 11-12. Beeson said the retreat is an opportunity for regents to prioritize their goals for the coming year.

By Labor Day, he said, committee membership and goals will be in place and will reflect the discussion the regents have during the retreat.

“When everything is a priority, nothing’s a priority,” he said. “So we need to come out with five or six really important things we want to have the president work on this year.”

Beeson, an executive vice president at Sunrise Banks, said 25 years of experience at the bank and on 35 other boards has prepared him to take on his new role.

Beeson contributes to his community and builds relationships by serving on boards in the Twin Cities, said his wife, Mary Don Beeson.

The two met 35 years ago while serving on a condominium board.

“He didn’t just buy his first property — he ended up serving on probably the first board at that condo as well,” she said. “It’s just a personality trait — to always be looking for how you can serve the community you are living in.”

The University holds an especially important place in his life, Beeson said. His office is decorated with Gophers memorabilia, but that’s just the beginning.

“You should see his man cave,” said Mary Don Beeson. “Our basement is wall-to-wall maroon and gold.”

Before being elected as a regent, Beeson was the founding director of the Central Corridor Partnership, which helped to finance and plan the light-rail line that will run through campus starting in 2014.

Beeson said his desire to work on the board came out of a connection he felt for the school as an alumnus.

“I felt … an affection for the University, which came out of my education,” he said. “And an obligation … to return something to it after going to school there.”

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