A ‘soldier’ moves on: Veteran

by Nichol Nelson

When Regent Thomas Reagan wanted Mark Yudof to become the University’s 14th president, he fought a tough battle.
“I had to resist a lot of people who thought I was making a mistake,” Reagan said. “I hung in there because I knew he would make a darn good candidate.”
Reagan, who is leaving the Board of Regents after eight years of service, now credits Yudof’s appointment as one of his proudest achievements. Reagan chaired the board when Yudof came to the University.
An outspoken regent, Reagan left a Washington, D.C., political post to enter Morrill Hall as a supporter of University athletics and the alumni Gateway building now under construction.
Reagan, a sponsor of the Gateway building since its inception, will continue to serve as a consultant for the project.
Reagan is leaving the University at a time of general prosperity, but said that the board was “in ashes” when he arrived in 1990.
The board was facing a lot of tough issues when he arrived, Reagan said. Tenure debates, efforts to close the General College and a flailing steam plant were hanging over the administration.
Reagan said he took on the problems with one goal in mind.
“I promised Mr. Yudof I would get rid of all of these issues before he took office,” he said.
There are two reasons things appear to be going well now: money and a great president, Reagan said.
“When you’ve got money, you can build and give raises,” he said. “You’re not causing angst and pain with issues like tenure, not being able to give money.”
Reagan also credited Yudof with getting a large chunk of the state’s surplus.
“Thank God we picked a guy who knew how to take advantage of (the surplus),” he said.
The regent’s admiration of Yudof’s budget skills stems from his own first-hand knowledge of politics.
After earning a Purple Heart in WWII, Reagan moved from a teaching and coaching job in northern Minnesota to take a position as chief of staff for Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. Reagan called the transition “unusual.”
Oberstar approached him to ask for campaign help in 1974, Reagan said.
“I didn’t realize what I was getting into,” Reagan said.
Unsure how to run a campaign and lacking funds, Reagan said he used the only network he knew –football players and coaches.
“I’d played or coached in almost every city we were running in,” Reagan said. “I called them and asked them to support Oberstar.”
The technique worked. Reagan said he even had a Republican football coach who had never heard of Oberstar, a Democrat, passing out flyers on International Falls’ main street.
His colleagues say he used similar passion as a regent. Regent Jessica Phillips is from the same region as Reagan and said he is respected for his honesty and condor.
“He says exactly what is on his mind,” Phillips said. “That really helps get a lot of people to trust the board.”
During his term, Reagan took a special interest in University athletics. He said he realized the need for action one night while watching a football game at Michigan with McKinley Boston, vice president for student development and athletics at the University.
Boston brought up the lack of regent support for University athletics during the game.
Reagan agreed that regents could offer more support and pressed the board to commit to athletics.
“I tried to convince board members either this is important, or let’s get rid of it,” Reagan said.
The regents made a financial commitment to athletics and helped to restructure some programs, Reagan said.
In an effort to make athletes feel connected to the board, the regents met with students and even had lunch with the football players in their locker room.
At last Friday’s meeting, Boston presented Reagan with a basketball signed by student athletes.
Boston called the ball a small token of thanks for Reagan’s strong athletic advocacy.
William Hogan II, chairman of the board, called Reagan “a great soldier” during the brief ceremony.
Reagan said he felt his job was done.
“I’ve always known when it was time to move on,” he said.