Regents elect new chairmanin close vote

Brian Bakst

and Jeremy Taff

Amid parliamentary shuffling and a series of tense roll call votes, the Board of Regents on Friday elected William Hogan II and Patricia Spence chairman and vice chairwoman for the University’s governing body for the next two years.
The pair unseated chairman Tom Reagan and vice chairman H. Bryan Neel, who had held the spots since 1995. As the University ushers in a new administration, the board’s changing leadership reflects a desire to have new blood in the institution’s top posts.
“I’m delightfully surprised,” Hogan said. “It was a dream I didn’t think was possible.”
After three deadlocked votes by board members, Reagan stepped aside, clearing the path for Hogan. Spence’s ascension was no less dramatic, as she edged out Neel with no votes to spare.
Spence herself was left to cast the deciding vote in the first ballot for chair. The room was silent as she deliberated about her choice for more than 20 seconds before supporting Hogan.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Spence said. “Maybe it was time to have a fresh start with our new president.”
Regent Michael O’Keefe called the series of votes the toughest he has had to make during his seven-month tenure on the board. Yet, it was clearly O’Keefe who was leading the floor charge.
During one of three recesses he asked Reagan if he would consider dropping out of the race. Reagan initially declined. Earlier, O’Keefe lobbied Regent Jessica Phillips, who glanced at her watch several times. Shortly after the meeting, Phillips left to catch a plane in order to make her graduation in Morris, Minn., later Friday afternoon.
In an unusual attempt to break the deadlock between Hogan and Reagan, several regents nominated Spence for the chair position, which forced her to resign the vice-chairwoman post she had just won. Reagan then relented, leaving Hogan and Spence in the running.
At that point, Spence supported Hogan rather than herself in an 8-3 vote. Spence was later re-elected vice chairwoman by an 8-3 tally.
“We could have gone to midnight or beyond,” Reagan said. “It looked to me the support was solid for everybody. I don’t want to see the board split.”
Hogan takes the helm in what is only his fourth year of service. The Excelsior, Minn., entrepreneur, a former administrator and professor at the University of Kansas, won faculty trust for his role in fending off disputed tenure code changes last fall.
“He’ll be a force for improving the quality of the University,” said faculty leader Virginia Gray. “I’ve been extremely impressed with Regent Hogan throughout the year.”
Spence, who was elected in 1995, is a homemaker and former mayor of Little Falls, Minn. The University alumna has experience on several other boards, including the Minnesota Supreme Court Board and Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Hogan and Spence said they do not expect the elections to harm the rapport among board members. Hogan complimented Reagan on the courage it took to step aside.
Neither Spence nor Hogan were prepared to lay out an agenda for the changes they might make.
The election of board officers was marred by divisiveness from the start. Board bylaws require roll call ballots, so members who rarely disagree in public were forced to choose between friends and highly respected colleagues on the record.
Attempting to gauge the board’s opinion, O’Keefe introduced a motion to conduct straw polls by secret ballot so regents could get a sense of where other board members stood. The motion proved controversial, but won approval nonetheless. The straw polls were followed by roll call votes.
Reagan, one of four dissenters to the motion, argued it would send a message that the public body was trying to conduct its business in private. “Coming from a regent who has been on the board for 6 « years, I’m not saying it’s illegal, but it’s drifting into dangerous territory,” he said.
For Reagan, the defeat wasn’t terribly heartbreaking. His two years as chairman were marked by tumultuous times, including the most recent flap over tenure. His diplomacy and leadership helped bring about Friday’s resolution of the tenure dispute.
Reagan said he hadn’t planned on running for a second term, saying, “I really thought one term would be plenty.” But he ran again at the request of board members — whom he didn’t name — and constituents.