A former Board of Regents candidate told a State House committee Wednesday that the regents selection process is “demoralizing and humiliating” and “politically charged.”
Margaret Leppik spoke to the the House Higher Education Finance Committee as Rep. Barb Sykora, R-Excelsior, introduced a bill designed to ease the regents selection process and also promote a more diverse governing board that is reflective of the University.
Instead of having the State Legislature select regents candidates, the bill proposes Gov. Tim Pawlenty would choose candidates based on recommendations from the Regent Candidate Advisory Council.
The Legislature would then approve or oppose the governor’s recommendations. If necessary, the Legislature could ask for new candidates who would better fit the slots.
The proposed process is expected to also lessen the political pressures involved with the Legislature, Leppik said.
“The process on the surface doesn’t look all that partisan, but there are lots of opportunities for mischief here,” Leppik said.
She said that she quit the election process this year because it was too political.
Leppik said that in past years, actions between the Legislature and regents candidates have been frustrating.
“It’s an adversarial process, because political parties can use it as a way to throw around their power,” she said.
As a result of the intense selection process, the University loses highly qualified candidates who come along, Leppik said. Politics involved often throw them off, she said.
“Many who went through it once will not go through it again,” Leppik said.
Leppik, along with former Regent Chairwoman Maureen Reed and members of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council suggested three main improvements for the selection process.
First, a needs assessment would be implemented that would evaluate a candidate’s expertise and skills in relation to the University’s goals, said Paul Dovre, the council chairman.
Humphrey Doermann, a council member, said the assessment would create a mix in candidate backgrounds from experience to gender and ethnicity – something that has been lacking from the process all along.
Doermann said nothing is addressed in the selection criteria about achieving a mixed and balanced governing board.
With this assessment, candidates would also be looked at as a whole, instead of as a seat-by-seat process, Leppik said.
This year, the board welcomed the addition of two white male regents to a predominately male and white governing board.
Out of the 58 applicants for regent positions, 11 were women, and seven were minorities, Doermann said.
The advisory council chose two women of the nine final candidates. No nonwhite candidates were forwarded to the Legislature for selection, he said.
“The board has not been as diverse as one would wish if ideally the board should look like the face of the state of Minnesota,” Doermann said.
“Most would say we underperformed.”
Reed said the final request is for the University’s priorities to be placed before politics.
“We just want the governing of the University to improve, and the selection process now doesn’t ensure an overall balance,” she said.