Kim expresses disgust with treatment

Joel Sawyer

Hyon Kim bowed out of the race for her own seat on the Board of Regents in a brief fax to news organizations late last night.
When the Daily spoke to Kim, who had described herself as a “tenacious” fighter, it was clear that she had a great deal more to say than her press release let on.

Daily: Why did you decide to pull your name out of the running for regent?
Kim: My district’s legislators encouraged everybody to run. What does that mean? That sends me a message. I can face challenges (from throughout the University community) but when my district … turns against me, I felt like, ‘hey, where is my base and what should I do?’ I said ‘hey, I just don’t need this.’

What happened to the tenacity that you told me about?
Let me put it this way. I really have to put my tenacious nature into my business. It’s a growing small business. So I need to spend more time in it. I think my business suffers a little bit because of my involvement with the University.

Did you think that you didn’t have a chance of being re-elected?
Well, no. I think one of my supporters always encouraged me that I would make it. It may be a pretty tough race — maybe 60-40 that I would make it — but I would make it. Maybe I’m just a little tired of this political battle. First of all, I was a little upset about my district. The legislators only looked at the issue of tenure and not my overall representation of the University.

What issues should they have looked at?
They should have looked at my overall performance. My district is an urban district, and a lot of issues that I cared about and talked about they (members of the 4th district) should have cared about, too.

What issues are you referring to?
Some people think I’m just repeating the same issue of diversity over and over. Is it a greater Minnesota issue or here? I think here. Urban issues, issues of financial aid, access vs. quality issues, student tuition issues. You know, issues of people who are normal people, people who are struggling, who want to go the University who might not have everything (they need) to go to the University.
I was representing those kinds of issues, too. It’s not that I didn’t look at tenure. I really looked at the Fairview merger and budgets. It’s almost like you’ve got to perform according to what we (the Legislature) believe and you don’t do a good job and so I’m just going to get rid of you.

Is that what the Legislature thinks?
Maybe they think they wanted to send somebody like me as a token and they’re not happy about it. I don’t even think they knew about the kind of issues we studied and made decisions (about). Based on one issue (tenure), they were encouraging other people to apply (to be regents).

Why do you think legislators have focused on you specifically for that issue?
Who knows, you’ll have to ask them.

Why criticize you specifically?
Because I’m the one up for re-election … the other thing is that I live in a district (where a lot of faculty members live). I’m sure they said ‘get rid of her because she’s no good.’

What kind of direction do you see the board going in?
If you talk to Win Wallin and the luncheon group of the governor’s, they think they don’t want someone like me. They want somebody who’s very prominent and experienced. How do you think I would feel about that? This group is concerned about excellence, not access … I know that this group really wants to oust me.

Who specifically is trying to oust you?
I know that our president’s office is not a strong supporter of me, namely, the chief of staff (Mario Bognanno). I’m not saying he did anything, but I know he’s not my friend.

State Sen. Richard Cohen made some negative comments about you. Has he been a strong opponent of yours since day one?
I don’t know if from the beginning he’s never supported me, but this time he’s been very vocal about my re-election. Basically, my fundamental philosophy is this: (for) someone like me, who is unknown — it’s a very insider society here — it is a very tough place for people who are from outside. As a woman and minority I feel there’s a subtle sense of discrimination. I really felt that a lot.

Did you feel that among board members?
No, but I’m just tired of proving myself. It’s an old thing in the minority community of trying to prove yourself. You think you’re going forward but you keep slipping down. Especially my district, where I thought I could get pretty good support with issues of diversity. I thought they would support me but they were just looking at the single issue and basically they’re just slapping my hand and saying, ‘I sent you there even though you’re not qualified and you’re not doing the job I want you to do.’

Why did the Legislature appoint you if they thought you weren’t qualified to begin with?
I don’t know. Do you think they thought I was qualified to be a regent and now I’m not? Why did they send me? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just paranoid. Anyway, I’m going to hang up my hat and say ‘this is it.’

You made reference to Win Wallin and the governor’s luncheon group (The Governor’s Roundtable on Economic Development and Higher Education). How do you get along with regent Michael O’Keefe who is in that group?
I don’t know yet. He is probably more of what the luncheon group and the governor want. I think there is a group of people in Minnesota who want our University to go towards excellence rather than access. I was hoping my district would support me and my view that without proper access you cannot have excellence. I really think the University needs to hear that voice.
The luncheon gang talks about excellence. Well, what about me? I came here with one suitcase in 1970 and went through a pretty tough life in this country. Should I discredit that? Do I have no right to be a regent?

Are you offended by the notion that you are not qualified?
Of course I am. There is subtle discrimination because I’m a minority woman with an accent, and an immigrant — you know there’s a lot of bashing of immigrants. I feel offended. You really think that you have friends in your district, where I thought they would care and embrace me, and then they sling mud at me.