RCAC forwards 16 UMN regent candidates to state Legislature

Members of the regent advisory council said diversity was a priority when looking to fill the four open seats on the Board of Regents.

Abdul Omari and Thomas Anderson speak during the University's Board of Regents meeting on Friday, Sep. 14 at the McNamara Alumni Center.

Jack Rodgers

Abdul Omari and Thomas Anderson speak during the University’s Board of Regents meeting on Friday, Sep. 14 at the McNamara Alumni Center.

Madeline Deninger

The Regent Candidate Advisory Council voted Friday to forward a total of 16 University of Minnesota Board of Regents candidates to the state Legislature for their consideration in the upcoming election. 

Members of the council said the candidates forwarded were more diverse than past years and offered lawmakers a number of qualified applicants. Two at-large seats, the student regent seat and the 5th Congressional District seat will be up for election this legislative session. 

RCAC Chair Dan Wolter said the Legislature has criticized the committee in the past for not providing it enough candidate options, prompting members to forward four candidates for each seat.  

The council received a total of 47 applications and interviewed 23 candidates. Of the 16 candidates forwarded, nine were women and seven were men. 

“The gender question is a big issue for us, and I think we took it seriously this time. I hope people are mindful of that,” Wolter said at the meeting. “I think there’s a case to be made to be sending full slates and a variety of options, particularly as it pertains to diversity.” 

At-large candidates selected by RCAC include two-term incumbent Regent Dean Johnson and former Rochester Community and Technical College Interim President Mary Davenport, who interviewed for the 1st Congressional District seat last session. 

RCAC member Margaret Carlson expressed concern about forwarding incumbent candidates to the Legislature without proper consideration. 

“I think it is a very dangerous precedent to start having the Board of Regents for 18 years,” Carlson said. “I think we need some fresh voices and fresh ideas. I think [Johnson]  has … served well, but all of us need to know when it’s time to pass the baton.” 

Other candidates forwarded for the at-large seats are Lynn Abrahamsen, Susan Adams Loyd, Kao Ly Ilean Her, Sandra Wiese and former U.S. Congressman Bill Luther, D-Minn. 

Regent Abdul Omari, who currently holds the student regent seat, applied for an at-large position. While council members said Omari served on the student seat and led the recent presidential search effectively, some argued he did not have enough experience for the at-large seat. 

“We need to look at experience outside his role as a regent,” said RCAC member Theo Menon. “We need to compare that to what else he’s done and the other candidates that are competing for this seat. … The broad depth of experience these other candidates have is more than he’s bringing.” 

Student regent candidates must be students at the time of their election. University law student Joshua Preston, Minnesota Student Association Chief of Staff James Farnsworth, University of Minnesota – Duluth Student Association President Mike Kenyanya, and University graduate student Sara Kettering were forwarded for the seat. 

RCAC forwarded incumbent Regent Peggy Lucas, Allison Barmann of the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, former Minnesota District Court Judge Janie Mayeron and Kelly Doran of Doran Companies development for the Fifth Congressional District seat. 

The Legislature will vote on candidates for these four seats on an undecided date this session. They are not limited to candidates forwarded by RCAC.