U announces three University Services VP finalists

A closer look at each candidate

by Rebecca Harrington

The University of Minnesota community can expect President Eric Kaler’s announcement of a new vice president for University Services soon, according to University officials.

The three candidates, announced June 1 are Mike Berthelsen, already at the University as associate vice president of Facilities Management, Pam Wheelock, board chair of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Tom Sorel, commissioner and CEO of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Current Vice President for University Services Kathleen O’Brien announced her retirement in February.

The purpose of University Services is “to make the University work.” It oversees Facilities Management, University Health and Safety, Public Safety, construction and auxiliary services like the bookstores and residence halls.

In public forums conducted last week, candidates campaigned for the position.


Mike Berthelsen

Current position: Associate Vice President of Facilities Management

Qualifications: worked at the University for 19 years, is an alumnus, has worked as AVP for six years

Platform: operational excellence, strong communication and consistent leadership

Berthelsen has worked at the University for 19 years and is also an alumnus. He has been the head of Facilities Management — which reports directly to the VP for University Services — for the past six years.

In his presentation, Berthelsen said he wanted to focus on “operational excellence,” because it’s what he believes is the most important aspect of the VP position.

“Here, [operational excellence] means the right services in the right amount at the right cost,” he said.

A contentious point raised in Berthelsen’s public forum was arbitration between Facilities Management and custodians over working conditions. The arbitrator recently sided with the University.

“We need to continue to listen to folks who are doing the job,” he said.

Berthelsen said his primary objective of the position is to be the communicator of the University’s services.

“I find that if the leader is consistent and clear about what it is we’re trying to achieve and then lets everybody go do their jobs, things go much faster,” he said.


Pam Wheelock

Current position: Chair of the Board of Directors at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota

Qualifications: has served on Board of Directors for nine years, was the commissioner of finance for Governor Jesse Ventura, was the Director of Planning and Economic Development for the city of St. Paul for seven years

Platform: future planning, developing partnerships and employee feedback

Wheelock was the interim CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota from 2011 until February and has served on its board of directors for nine years — three as board chair.

A major point in Wheelock’s speech was looking to the future to decide what University Services should do now.

Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services, asked Wheelock if she would sell the University’s parking lots since Ohio State University might privatize its parking lots to a private firm for $483 million. Wheelock said that type of plan would not be her “first choice.”

Wheelock referred to the academic bloc as “customers” in her presentation, which caused discontent with faculty members.

“It’s really about rolling up your sleeves and developing a partnership with those that are on the frontline of advancing the academic interests of this institution,” she said

Tom Sorel

Current position: CEO/Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation

Qualifications: managed a $4.3 billion biennial budget with MNDOT, held various management positions with the Federal Highway administration for 30 years

Platform: quality of life, organizational congruency and risk management

Sorel has been the CEO of MnDOT, which has a $4.3 billion biennial budget, for four years.

He talked about how serving that role when the Interstate 35W Bridge collapsed impacted him.

“I had the challenge of bringing the community back to life, of bringing MnDOT back to life and really represent a healing process for the community — and at the same time, build a new bridge,” he said.

Sorel said he would put special focus on quality of life for University Services employees and the people they serve.

“I’m a big believer that what we do has to have a positive response to people’s quality of life,” he said.

At MnDOT, 92 percent of employees said they were happy to work there under Sorel’s leadership.

“I view people in my business as a stakeholder,” he said. “The public is a stakeholder. That’s a different view than looking at them as a customer.”