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Laura Brod brought ‘quiet change’ to the Board of Regents

In her six-year tenure, Brod focused on the University’s need for humility and transparency.
Regent Laura Brod poses for a portrait in the McNamara Alumni Center on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.
Image by Carter Jones
Regent Laura Brod poses for a portrait in the McNamara Alumni Center on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

Though she would eventually serve for years on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, Laura Brod’s first memories of the school were watching her brothers play hockey.

“My parents would throw me in the car … I’d grab a little blanket, and we’d come up here every Sunday night and watch intramural hockey,” Brod said. “I pretty much grew up watching hockey here.”

Brod is the youngest of eight siblings, and her family members have spent a combined 54 years at the University. She said her connection to the school and a desire to serve the public culminated in her decision to run for a seat on the Board of Regents.

Her term expires this year, but Brod said she won’t seek reelection, bringing an end to the six years she spent on the board.

“It’s just a matter of time,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed serving on the board. I think I’ve been impactful in quiet ways in moving the trajectory.”

Before her time as a regent, Brod served four terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where she was a member of the House Finance subcommittee, among others.

She said her time in the House taught her to pick her battles.

“There’s all sorts of things that you can decide are important, but if everything’s important, nothing’s important,” she said. “Just taking a hard-line position on something and not having any impact on even changing the direction doesn’t do anything.”

As a regent, she said she took the same approach to difficult topics and moving issues forward.

“I’ve learned that around this place, it’s better to work from behind,” she said. “Working with people, understanding where they’re coming from, blending that with where I want to go has allowed me to move the trajectory of issues.U…”

She said serving as both a legislator and regent lent her a unique view on the importance of improving the relationship between the state and the school.

“If the University didn’t need the legislature’s money, then it could thumb its nose at them, but we can’t do that,” she said. “We have to have a good relationship with the Legislature. We’re partners in this.”

Brod said she’s tried to work to bring that transparency, along with humility, to the forefront of the University’s relationship with the public.

“We need to be elite; we don’t want to be elitist,” she said. “I think when families look at the University and see spending that they can’t understand and is not transparent … they … sense that the University sometimes doesn’t feel like it has to explain itself…”

Regent Richard Beeson, who serves with Brod on the Audit and Compliance Committee, described her as “fiercely independent and very bright.”

“She told me once, ‘Don’t question people’s motives, but stay focused on the issues,’” Beeson said. “We’ll miss her, and she’s on to exciting new things.”

As she leaves to continue her work as CEO of GeneSegues Therapeutics, a Minneapolis-based biopharmaceutical company she founded, Brod said students should keep an open mind.

“I always tell students, ‘Don’t let anyone box you in or pigeonhole you to a path,’” she said. “I use my own experience to indicate that there’s similarities between different pathways that you can take, but if you just think that you can do [only one thing], I think you’re holding yourself back.”

What would you say were some of the most important issues that the board addressed during your time as a regent?

We’ve been navigating through the morass of controversy … I think part of that is due to punting on certain items of decisions that need to be made … Some things I’d like the University to continue to work on are transparency and humility. I … think that universities in general … lack the transparency that is due to the public that pays for it … I think that the more universities can do in terms of transparency and the more humble universities can be, I think the public will start coming back to the understanding that this is a really important place for the economy in this state.…

Going forward, as your term comes to an end, what sorts of issues do you see as the most important issues for the board to tackle?

I think that higher education budgets need to change … I think higher ed will be forced to change its business model, and I would like to see the University lead in some pilot projects to change that business model … but I think the University needs to do a better job accepting that the status quo will not reign going forward. I think we need to be at the front of that change … as opposed to following it and being upset about it.

What would you say is one of the most challenging parts about being a regent?

Finding the correct balance between governance, policy and management … But that balance is hard to find, and every single one of the board members has a different balance. And so I’ve always thought that the board was not active enough, but I think we have to be very careful to have an active and engaged board without it falling into an activist board.

What would you say has been the most rewarding part of being a regent?

If everybody in this state could come and sit down with some student or some researcher and actually listen to what they’re studying or listen to what they’re researching, I think everyone in the state would have a different vantage point on this place. Some of the coolest moments I’ve had as a regent were just sitting there listening to what people were working on.

Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming regent election?

Nope. I am one of the regents who has always taken a hands-off approach to the election. Whoever the legislature decides to send to this board, this board needs to be able to work with.…

Do you think there are any topics that the regent candidates should be addressing?

I think the questions I’ve heard about are issues relative to spending … I also have been hearing some concerns over communication … relative to the University of Minnesota’s relationship with the legislature. And I do think that relationship needs to be stronger, and I think greater transparency and openness by the University could help strengthen that relationship…

Any plans to run for office in the future?

No. I’ve really loved every minute of public service, and I’ll continue to serve in different ways … The business of bio-tech is a very exciting place to be right now. The experience of having been involved in the University, which has a phenomenal research arm … has really shown me … the importance of what we do and how it impacts not only the Minnesota economy, but changing the human condition in healthcare.

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