Regent race gets underway

Joel Sawyer

The race for the Board of Regents officially began Friday with the announcement of candidates to fill five seats on the 12-member governing board.
The announcement by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council of candidates begins the interview and lobbying phase of a selection process that has been marred by controversy.
The council, charged with recruiting potential regents, had struggled to find suitably qualified candidates by its Dec. 16 deadline. They have also seen legislators and members of the media criticize regents that the council recommended in past searches.
But a quick glance at the list of 24 candidates reveals several prominent figures who might be acceptable to legislators, who ultimately appoint regents to the board.
Two current regents — H. Bryan Neel, a surgeon and educator at the Mayo Clinic, and Michael O’Keefe, the executive vice president for the McKnight Foundation — made the list.
So did former Minnesota House Speaker Harry Sieben Jr. and former Secretary of Agriculture Robert Berglund. Also included are retired 3M Senior Vice President George Allen and John Kendall, the former president of Gustavus Adolphus College. Absent was the name of Regent Hyon Kim.
“It strikes me that a number of the candidates are pretty solid,” said State Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who last week indicated he would not support Kim.
Kim had sought re-election to the board, but public criticism of her performance and qualifications became so intense that she pulled her name out of the running last week.
Of the 91 applicants for the board, more than half were from the Fourth Congressional District, which Kim represents. She also seemed to have little support from constituents and legislative leaders.
With Kim out of the running, the board will be composed of at least three and possibly five new members. That will probably suit many legislators who’ve become disillusioned with the board’s performance in recent years.
“There are some concerns about how the board has operated,” Cohen said. “We’re looking for somebody who is going to have a clear sense of the University and how it operates vis-a-vis other Universities.”
While there are no specific qualities expected in regent candidates, they are required to have experience on boards of directors or other governing bodies and the knowledge and understanding of higher education in Minnesota.
“You always want people of experience. People with reputations of integrity and reputations of working well on complex subjects in a committee setting,” said council member Humphrey Doermann.
Kim wasn’t the only regent to face public criticism in past weeks. Neel was the target of a Star Tribune editorial criticizing him for his role in promoting contentious tenure changes and his lack of leadership as the board’s vice chair.
Neel, who is seeking a second term on the board, called those allegations “illogical” and not worthy of comment Thursday and said he would not be deterred by such criticism.
“In my case, if I didn’t think I had a reasonable chance of getting re-elected, I wouldn’t run again,” he said.
Neel, who represents the First District, said he spoke with legislators, residents of his district, administrators and faculty to find out what they thought of his performance.
“I asked them, ‘has my leadership been good, and have I made good contributions?’ and the answer is `yes, yes, yes,'” he said.
Neel’s only competition will come from Thomas Stoa, a physician from Winona.
When regents’ terms expire they can run for re-election or step aside, allowing other candidates to vie for their seats. Seventh District Regent Stanley Sahlstrom and Sixth District Regent Wendell Anderson both decided not to seek third terms.
Regents serve staggered six-year terms, making four seats open every two years. But Jean Keffeler’s departure from the board in November created a fifth open seat.
O’Keefe has filled that spot since he was specially appointed by Gov. Arne Carlson shortly after Keffeler’s resignation. Despite his recent appointment, O’Keefe still has to be approved by the Legislature to serve the remainder of Keffeler’s term, which expires in 2001.
Hamline University Professor Joseph Daly and William Drake, CEO of Islet Technology, will contest O’Keefe for the Fifth District seat.
The candidates will be interviewed by the council Jan. 23-28. The council will then forward two to four names of recommended finalists from each district to the Legislature by Feb. 1. Legislators will meet with finalists and debate their qualifications before announcing new regents by Feb. 20.