Regent Keffeler steps down

by Brian Bakst

Board of Regents member Jean Keffeler tendered her resignation Thursday, leaving many at the University shocked by the announcement.
Keffeler, whose resignation will take effect Dec. 1 or when a replacement is found, has endured many attacks because she is a central figure behind the board’s attempt to reform tenure. But Keffeler’s resignation letter holds few clues to the reasons behind her decision.
“Unfortunately, the values I hold as an individual and the beliefs I hold about responsible governance are inconsistent with the situation that has developed at the University,” Keffeler wrote, “a situation of which the current tenure crisis is symptomatic.”
Keffeler could not be reached for further comment.
Gov. Arne Carlson will appoint a temporary replacement until the Legislature elects someone to fill out Keffeler’s term on the 12-member board. Keffeler’s six-year term would have ended in 2001.
Brian Dietz, an official in the governor’s office, said it was “too premature to say right now when an appointment will be made.”
Dietz said Keffeler called Carlson’s office Thursday afternoon before submitting her resignation.
Keffeler issued a letter to her fellow regents last month requesting that they pull their tenure proposal off the table, calling the attempt to revise tenure “a sorry process.”
Of the seven regents reached for comment Thursday, all expressed surprise at the announcement. Many regents termed it a great loss for the University. Regent Jessica Phillips described Keffeler’s resignation as the loss of a friend for the University.
The resignation baffled Mario Bognanno, chief of staff to University President Nils Hasselmo. “I can’t imagine what the circumstances would be that would evoke a decision to resign from the board.”
Regents H. Bryan Neel and William Peterson were surprised by the announcement, but said they would never resign even under the pressures the regents now face.
“I wouldn’t think of resigning,” Neel said. “When I take a job, I finish it.”
Regent Hyon Kim said there could be any number of reasons for Keffeler’s resignation. “She’s a very private person and a very proud woman,” Kim said, adding Keffeler never hinted to her that a resignation was forthcoming.
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said although Keffeler may have been unfairly demonized, the resignation epitomizes the poor state the University is in.
“I have privately told people that all of the regents should resign,” she said. “It’s the only way to dramatically show how bad they’ve botched things up.”
Staff reporters Michelle Kibiger and Joel Sawyer contributed to this report.