Schneider: Don’t let state lawmakers throw out the Regent Candidate Advisory Council

If the RCAC is eliminated, so is public input in the process for selecting new Board of Regents members.

Ellen Schneider

Minnesota lawmakers have recently been reconsidering the process by which University of Minnesota Board of Regents members are chosen. In the current system, the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, a 24-member panel made up of volunteers, make suggestions to state legislators on who they believe are the best candidates. Bills are being proposed in both the state House and Senate as legislators are attempting to alter the selection process. They want to diminish or even eliminate the RCAC in the interest of their own influence. 

The decision to appoint someone to the Board of Regents lies ultimately with state legislators, however, the RCAC has been taking the heat for the Board’s apparent lack of diversity and qualified candidates. Legislators who have proposed bills in the interest of curtailing the RCAC’s sway imply that this will somehow depoliticize the process of choosing new Regents because giving politicians more political influence always has that affect. 

The state legislators’ proposals to eliminate the RCAC is a nonsensical, thinly-veiled attempt at granting themselves more authority. As reported by the Star Tribune, Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who favors repealing the panel, says lawmakers like himself often ignore the RCAC’s recommendations for candidates anyway. And yet, the RCAC is still somehow to blame for the less-than-satisfactory leadership of the Board. 

Creating a screening commission made up entirely of state legislators eliminates any and all public input in the selection process. This is cause for concern. While I’ll admit that the current process is flawed, there are ways in which legislators should look at improving it instead of removing the RCAC completely. If this proposal goes through, state legislators will have the sole authority to choose whomever they want, without stopping to consider a citizen’s thoughts on the matter. 

The RCAC has been criticized for choosing the “politically connected” above those who are more qualified for the position. However, if this is truly an issue, it’ll only be exacerbated by the elimination of the RCAC. In the interest of their own political careers, state legislators have a much greater motivation in appointing those who are connected than those who take an unpaid position on the RCAC. It is incredibly important for the public’s interest to be factored into these decisions, and the RCAC is the only thing preventing it from being ignored completely. We, as students, are the ones who bear the burden of a flawed system and mediocre Board of Regents. We could be working to keep the RCAC intact and have our interests represented. 

If the RCAC is truly an ineffective committee whose recommendations have been subpar and therefore ignored, then the state legislators would be at fault for the substandard candidates being brought forward. The RCAC is only acting as a scapegoat for state legislators who want to garner more power for themselves. Don’t be fooled by this.  

If the state legislators’ goals are truly to gather more candidates for the University Board of Regents, I firmly believe this is something they could have already been doing and can begin doing without disbanding the RCAC. There is simply no justification for discontinuing this committee, and it certainly isn’t the first time legislators have gone after it. However, I believe they should be working harder to attract motivated people to the RCAC.

Now that Regent Patricia Simmons is leaving, this issue has newfound relevance. Simmons, who has served more than 15 years on the Board will need to be replaced this spring. The RCAC is a way for state legislators to be held accountable so they take a stand for what citizens want. We should protect the RCAC because they protect our interests.