Higher ed task force leaders named

The two University alumni will direct a review of the state’s higher ed institutions.

Stephanie Kudrle

University officials are pleased with the leaders Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed to his higher education task force Wednesday.

The governor chose Rondi Erickson and Vance Opperman to head the task force he introduced in his February State of the State address.

The two business leaders, both University alumni, will direct a group from the Citizen’s League in evaluating the state’s higher education institutions. The task force will report its findings to the governor in September.

The Citizen’s League is an independent nonprofit group that studies public policy issues.

Erickson, a Duluth businesswoman, said she is excited to work with the task force.

“I’ve had an interest in higher education for many years,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be doing it.”

She said she hopes the group will be open-minded when reviewing all public and private higher education institutions across the state.

“It’s always valuable to take a look at where we are and where we want to be,” Erickson said.

Opperman, a Minneapolis businessman, said he does not have any preconceived ideas about how the committee will operate.

“We will look at ways to leverage our investment in higher education,” he said. “There’s a great deal more that can be done.”

He said he thinks it is a good idea to look at state funding levels and the state’s higher education infrastructure, and hopes the committee can issue constructive recommendations.

Citizen’s League President Sean Kershaw said the co-chairs will be responsible for guiding the work of the 25- to 30-member task force.

He said the committee will perform three tasks. It will broadly examine higher-education institutions in Minnesota, look at how the state interacts with public and private colleges and universities and develop recommendations for improving the current system.

The rest of the committee members are still being appointed, Kershaw said.

Susan Heegaard, Higher Education Services Office director, said the task force has a September deadline so it can have an impact on the governor’s 2005 budget proposal, which he will begin developing in October.

She said Erickson and Opperman are well-respected people in the state and will be good leaders for the task force.

The governor wanted to bring in people with a business background from urban and rural areas, Heegaard said.

Sandra Gardebring, University Relations vice president, said Erickson and Opperman are familiar with the University.

Erickson served on the National Board of the Alumni Association as vice president and Opperman has been involved with the University Law School, she said.

“I would look to them to be thoughtful, careful and lead the league through a good process of analyzing higher education,” Gardebring said.

She said the administration is waiting to see the rest of the committee members, and is pleased with Pawlenty’s selections.

The University plans to be involved with the task force throughout the process, Gardebring said, and hopes the committee’s conclusions will provide the base for more funding next year.

She said the University plans to meet with Erickson and Opperman as soon as possible.