Selection should be district-based

By Jessica Phillips

Last September, the University Alumni Association charged a group of Minnesota citizens to study the regent selection process and recommend any changes that would strengthen the process.
On Jan. 24, that group, in the spirit of strengthening the regent selection process and the governance of the University, released a report recommending changes to the present regent selection process. While the committee proposed five changes, I want to focus on only one: the elimination of all constituency-based seats.
The Board of Regents is composed of 12 regents: eight from each of the congressional districts and four at-large, reserving one at-large seat for a University student.
The committee’s recommendation was to select all regents from an at-large pool of candidates and no longer reserve eight seats for individuals from the state’s eight congressional districts or reserve one for a student. I am concerned that this proposal would hinder efforts to attract qualified regent candidates from greater Minnesota and would probably prevent a student from ever being elected to the Board of Regents.
There is the perception that a regent from a particular congressional district represents people from his or her particular district. Or that the student regent represents only students. This is one of the many misconceptions about the Board of Regents. The only constituency each regent represents is that of the University community and the citizens of Minnesota. Why have constituency-based seating? When considering the diverse constituency the board is representing, there needs to be a group of very diverse and dynamic individuals serving them. I am concerned that if constituency-based seating is done away with, many qualified individuals from greater Minnesota will be discouraged from seeking candidacy to the board.
The Governor, legislators, and the Regent Candidate Advisory Council need to seek out qualified individuals from throughout the state to serve on the boards. Having constituency-based seats ensures that those efforts will continue.
The University needs a geographically balanced board for other reasons, as well. Citizens from greater Minnesota often have better knowledge of the University’s presence beyond the Twin Cities. The board makes policies and oversees operations for not only the Twin Cities campus, but also for the campuses in Duluth, Crookston and Morris, as well as the Rochester University Center. Through the Minnesota Extension Service, the University is present in each of Minnesota’s 97 counties. Through the agricultural experiment stations, the University is present in Rosemount, Crookston, Grand Rapids, Lamberton, Morris and Waseca. Through the Hormel Institute and the Landscape Arboretum, the University is present in Austin and Chanhassen.
The University is a land-grant institution. The University of Minnesota is an organization that belongs to and serves the citizens of our state … the entire state. The governing board for the University needs to reflect that.
The seat on the Board of Regents reserved for a student at the time of election is a constituency-based seat and its importance has been questioned. The student member of the board brings the student perspective to the table without solely representing students or student interests. The knowledge of the University and the unique perspective a student can bring to the board is valuable and adds to the diversity of the board. I fear that if a seat is no longer reserved for a student, that unique perspective may be lost.
There has been the concern by some people that constituency-based seats foster parochialism and that individual regents pay too much attention to the ways in which the University relates to their own districts and interests. In my two years of service on the board, I have only seen a group of 12 very dedicated Minnesota citizens working to make the University a better place for students, staff, faculty and citizens. We have worked to create a vision for the University that promotes access and excellence and have worked with a president and an administration who have made great things happen. The unique and varied talents of each and every regent have contributed in important ways to the many issues the board has had to tackle over the past two years.
We owe it to the citizens of Minnesota to have the Board of Regents reflect the make-up of this state.

Regent Jessica Phillips is a student at the University’s Morris Campus and her at-large seat expires in 2001.