Regent candidate interviews underway

Joel Sawyer

Jockeying for five open seats on the University’s Board of Regents began in earnest Thursday as seven of the 23 candidates for the board underwent preliminary interviews with the Regent Candidate Advisory Council.
The appointment of between three and five new regents might change the face of the University’s 12-member governing body. Only two current regents — H. Bryan Neel and Michael O’Keefe — are seeking re-election.
Interviews with the remaining candidates continue today and Monday. On Tuesday, the council will recommend two to four finalists from each district to a legislative committee for approval. The committee will forward one name from each district to a joint session of the legislature, which will elect new regents by Feb. 20.
Candidates interviewed Thursday answered a variety of questions about the University, including why they wanted to be regents and how they would deal with such issues as tenure, decreased state funding, and the sometimes difficult relationship between the board and the school’s administration.
Barbara Klemme, who faces six other candidates for the Sixth Congressional District seat currently held by outgoing regent Wendell Anderson, said she was qualified to join the board because of her extensive experience in higher education.
“My heart always has been in board service, particularly where it relates to higher education,” said Klemme, a Stillwater native who is a consultant for nonprofit organizations.
Klemme said her vision for the University’s future includes strong ties with the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, and a redefinition of the role the University should play in educating Minnesotans.
District Five candidate William Drake, who faces stiff opposition from O’Keefe, said regents and the administration must have clearly defined roles.
“The administration operates and manages the University,” said the president and CEO of Islet Technology, Inc. “The regents challenge the administration to rethink and refine plans, but not get into the day-to-day management of the University,” Drake added.
Regents have been assailed in the last year for their handling of disputes over tenure, their proposal to close General College and a presidential search that many, including Gov. Arne Carlson, considered flawed.
Retired DCA, Inc. executive Dean Wahlberg said the perception that serving on the board is a thankless task, did not dissuade him from seeking an appointment.
Much of that perception, he said, stemmed from the “in-your-face” attitude displayed by many current regents.
“That’s not the way you run a railroad or a University,” Wahlberg added.
Wahlberg, who is running for the Sixth District spot, admitted he was not intimately familiar with the state’s higher education system and many elements of the University. He also said he did not have a vision for where he wanted the school to be in 10 to 15 years.
“I haven’t thought much about that,” he said.
Wahlberg did, however, say that the University should not give up its role as the premier learning center in the state.
“The University is not there to make money,” he said. “It’s there to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Thomas Stoa, a physician from Winona, and Neel’s only challenger in the First District, said he would like to change the tarnished image of the University.
“I’d like to help restore the luster of an elite research institution,” he said.
Stoa also said he would like the University to adopt some corporate management practices to increase the school’s efficiency.
“It needs to be run with business-like motivations, but it’s important to keep in mind that it is an educational institution,” he said.
The council also interviewed Vernon Hoium, a lawyer from the Sixth District; Fourth District candidate Andrew Boss; and Seventh District candidate Roland Dille. Boss is the chairman of St. Anthony Park State Bank in St. Paul. Dille is a former president of Moorhead State University.
— Staff Reporter Jennifer Niemela contributed to this story