A bill introduced in the state Legislature last week would make it harder for former legislators to serve on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, would prevent lawmakers from serving on the board for two years after leaving the Legislature. It was created in light of the increased amount of legislators serving on the board.
The bill would also apply to those wishing to serve on Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ Board of Trustees.
Last year, the Legislature appointed to the board Steve Sviggum and Laura Brod, two former Republican House members. In response, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party members in the Legislature unsuccessfully pressed for legislation that would prevent more than one former legislator from serving on the board at one time.
Knuth, who’s also a doctoral candidate at the University, said the board is an essential part of the University and needs to have a diverse, talented membership.
“The Board of Regents selection process has become really politicized,” Knuth said.
Knuth said she wants the prohibition to last two years because representatives serve two-year terms and it could also decrease the likelihood that appointees would have many personal relationships in the Legislature.
Although the proposed legislation wouldn’t have affected Sviggum when he joined the board, his and Brod’s appointment influenced Knuth’s decision to try to get a variety of members on the board in the future.
Under the proposed legislation, Brod could not have been appointed to the board at that time. It’s a similar case for Regent Dean Johnson, who served in the state Legislature from 1979 to 2006 before he was appointed to the board in 2007. When he left the Capitol, Johnson was a DFLer.
But Knuth said the bill is for future appointments and couldn’t be applied retroactively.
In response to the bill, Sviggum said, “I’m not sure it is a good idea. I’m not sure you want to restrict potential regents.”
Sviggum said that could negatively affect the University. But University President Eric Kaler dismissed that notion.
“There are lots of talented people who are willing to give time to the University. I’m not sure it would limit access to qualified people,” Kaler said.
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who chairs the House Higher Education, Policy and Finance committee said he was unsure of the future of the bill but wasn’t in favor of it.
“I don’t imagine I’d be supporting that,” Nornes said.
Nornes said he didn’t think legislators serving the board had been a problem in the past.