Kim tackled touchy issues, faced critics

by Joel Sawyer

When Hyon Kim became a regent in 1994, she was unaware of the troubles she would face serving as the first-ever Asian-American woman on the 12-member Board of Regents.
“I was pretty naive as a public figure because I had never really gotten into the kinds of political battles (that regents engage in) before.”
Kim, who took over Ann Wynia’s vacant seat on the board after Wynia made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, tackled some of the most difficult and divisive issues in the University’s history.
The implementation of University 2000, the merger of University Hospital with Fairview Health System, the naming of Mark Yudof as the next University president, and the heated tenure debate took place on Kim’s watch.
Kim decided not to seek a second term as regent Tuesday because of the harsh criticism she has received from legislators and constituents within the Congressional Fourth District, which she represents. She will fulfill her term, which will end after the board meets in February.
Many were critical of Kim’s support of a tenure proposal that would allow for layoff authority. Many also believed she was unqualified to serve as regent.
Kim said she also wanted to dedicate more time to her business, JMT Medical, a medical device manufacturing and packaging company that Kim said is in the middle of expanding and restructuring.
Kim was a forceful proponent of increasing excellence at the University without compromising access to students from diverse backgrounds.
One of Kim’s more vocal fights was over the axing of General College. University President Nils Hasselmo attempted to have the college eliminated last year, but regents, led by Kim, prevented the move.
Kim attended General College and graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in business and East Asian Studies.
“It wasn’t just the General College issue, it was a process issue,” Kim said of the board’s battle to save the college. “I don’t think the president did a good job of informing us what he wanted to do … and how we could serve underprepared students.”
Kim has also been a strong proponent of student interests. She has fought to keep tuition rates at reasonable levels and make financial aid accessible.
Kim’s departure may signal the end of an era of a regents’ board without extensive background in higher education and business administration.
Gov. Carlson and legislators have hinted that they would like to see more regents like Michael O’Keefe, the executive vice president of the McKnight Foundation, who was appointed by Carlson in November to fill Jean Keffeler’s vacant seat.
With five seats up for contention, including O’Keefe’s, a radically different board may be assembled by this spring.