Neel defends place on board

by Joel Sawyer

Among those interviewed Monday for the five open seats on the University’s 12-member governing board were current Regent H. Bryan Neel and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland.
The end of interviews marks the beginning of a new phase of the regent selection process. The Regent Candidate Advisory Council recommends two to four candidates for each open position on the Board of Regents to the Legislature’s higher education committee today.
The higher education committee will forward one finalist for each seat to legislators next month. New regents will be selected by Feb. 20 by a joint session of the Legislature.
It’s likely that both Neel, representing the 1st Congressional District, and Bergland, from the 7th District, will make the short list of finalists.
Neel, whose only opposition is Thomas Stoa, a physician from Winona, said the board’s accomplishments during his term are the reasons why he should be reelected. Neel cited the implementation of U2000, University President Nils Hasselmo’s plan for restructuring the University, as foremost among the board’s achievements.
He also praised the board’s appointment of president-elect Mark Yudof, and suggested that in order for Yudof to have a relatively soft landing upon coming to the University, he would need to have some continuity on the board. Neel suggested that his experience as vice chairman for the board would be essential in helping Yudof make that transition.
Bergland, the frontrunner to succeed Regent Stanley Sahlstrom, lamented the lack of public support for the University and raised some eyebrows on the council by suggesting the state increase the school’s funding.
“There is a general lack of awareness of the importance of the University in the state,” he said. “If the University’s going to respond to the demands for more and better service — better variety — then it has to be paid for. I think the public needs to understand that loud and clear.”
Bergland added that he thought the answer to increased funding did not lie in raising tuition.
“The reality is there needs to be money and if it doesn’t come from the treasuries of the state and the pocketbooks of taxpayers it has to come from students and other sources. That would be a terrible mistake.”
The final three of six candidates vying for outgoing Regent Wendell Anderson’s 6th District seat Monday went before the council.
Roger Heinisch, corporate officer of Alliant Techsystems, stressed his commitment to education
“I believe modern society is no place for an uneducated citizenry,” Heinisch said. “It is the sacred duty for every human being to educate themselves.”
Heinisch, a former marine and executive at Honeywell, said that as a regent, he would focus funding and resources at the University into traditionally strong areas such as medical technology and the biomedical sciences.
“I don’t think the University can be everything to everybody,” he said.
Maureen Reed, a Stillwater physician and administrator for Health Partners, cited her management experience and understanding of complex institutions as a reason she should be a regent.
She said the University must be held accountable for measuring its performance in educating students. In addition to measuring graduation rates and the number of minority students, she said, “we need to look at what we’re achieving in educating those students.”
The final candidate for the 6th District seat, George Allen, told the council that the University should adopt a more research-oriented approach to higher education.
Allen, a retired vice president for 3M, said he thinks research is what distinguishes the mission of a land-grant institution.
Former House Speaker Harry Sieben Jr., Barbara Klemme, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and attorney Vernon Hoium are also contesting the seat.
It’s anyone’s guess who will emerge as finalists from the 4th District. Several candidates, including Carol Erickson, superintendent of Roseville Area Schools, have interviewed well.
Erickson said on Monday that her deep commitment to, and experience in, education qualifies her to sit on the board. Erickson will face stiff competition from former Gustavus Adolphus President John Kendall and St. Paul School Superintendent David Metzen.
— Staff Reporter Jessica Steeno contributed to this story.