Legislature to fill 4 open regents seats

Two regents plan to retire, giving the Legislature power to choose new ones.

by Conor Shine

Four of the 12 spots on University of MinnesotaâÄôs Board of Regents will open this spring, giving the new state Legislature an early opportunity to influence the UniversityâÄôs governance.

The Legislature selects the regents, who are responsible for approving the UniversityâÄôs budget, new building plans and policy changes.

With Republicans taking control of both houses, more fiscally conservative candidates might be favored, said Jay Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Regents serve staggered, unpaid, six-year terms. Every two years, a search committee screens a pool of applicants and submits candidates to be voted on.

The process gives legislators a chance to have their views and interests represented at the University, Kiedrowski said.

“ItâÄôs really up to the Legislature to decide what they want to do,” he said. “If they have strong opinions on an issue, they would select people that have similar opinions.”

Before the Legislature can vote on candidates, the pool of 40 applicants must first be narrowed.

The Regents Candidate Advisory Council will meet next week to screen applications and will invite about five candidates per open slot for in-person interviews, said David Fisher, the councilâÄôs recruitment committee chairman.

The interviews will be held in the beginning of January, and House and Senate higher education committees will select one candidate for each slot to be voted on by the Legislature.

Legislators arenâÄôt required to approve the candidates presented, said Fisher, a Twin Cities lawyer. Jesse Ventura made the final choice in 2001 when the Legislature couldnâÄôt reach a consensus.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said heâÄôs looking for strong-willed candidates who arenâÄôt afraid to speak their mind.

“Quite frankly, the perception that everythingâÄôs done before [the regents] get out to the public meeting, I donâÄôt know if thatâÄôs healthy,” Rukavina, the outgoing chairman of the House higher education committee, said. “Nobody likes a good debate more than me, and it should happen in public.”

Regents almost never vote down measures brought before them, and many times, the vote is unanimous. In the past year, every item presented to the board passed.

Current regents Dave Larson and Steven Hunter, both University alumni, plan to seek a second term. Larson is a former Cargill executive, while Hunter is the secretary and treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Dallas Bohnsack and Anthony Baraga, who have both served two terms, are retiring.

Regents come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including finance, medicine, education and agriculture. The Legislature will have to take the retirement of Bohnsack, the boardâÄôs only farmer, into account, Fisher said.

“We do want a broad mix of people on the board,” he said. “So there may be an interest âĦ to look for someone who is a producing farmer.”

Larson said regents face a steep learning curve, and his experiences in the past six years will make him an asset, especially to the incoming president.

“I think if itâÄôs possible, you should try to run for a second term because you can contribute more âĦ because youâÄôre not going to have to spend as much time learning,” he said.

The board must include at least one representative from each of the stateâÄôs eight congressional districts. The Legislature must replace regents representing Districts 2, 3 and 8, which include counties south of the metro area, the northern suburbs of Hennepin County and northeastern Minnesota.