Kelso will seek release of AHC’s embargoed funds

by Brian Bakst

State Rep. Becky Kelso said Wednesday she will propose legislation to release a $6.6 million appropriation for the Academic Health Center which legislators had tied to tenure reform.
The DFLer from Shakopee, who chairs the state Legislature’s University finance committee, made her announcement one day after Gov. Arne Carlson lambasted University officials and Board of Regents members for the tenure impasse.
Currently the money sits in the possession of the state’s commissioner of finance. The funds are not supposed to be given to the University until it makes changes to the tenure code.
Kelso commented on the embargoed funds following a panel discussion on tenure issues at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She said changing the language on the appropriation bill will be among her first priorities when the Legislature convenes in January.
“To have that money be held in suspension until all this turns out is unfair,” Kelso said.
The University went to the Legislature in January to ask for money for its financially ailing health center. Legislators complied by granting the University a $6.6 million appropriation in April, but made the funds contingent on tenure reforms for the health center. Because the need for aid was urgent, University officials made the request for funds despite the fact that it was a non-budgeting year.
Tenured professors in the Medical Schools are paid partly from revenues from patient care. Because the center’s patient base has been shrinking, the University did not have adequate funds to pay faculty members, but could not lay any of them off because of tenure.
Not wanting to create separate tenure systems for different parts of the University, faculty members pushed for Universitywide tenure changes if there were to be changes at all.
Kelso said she favors a unit-based tenure system where a professor is granted tenure through a department or college rather from the University as a whole.
University President Nils Hasselmo said Wednesday he still stands behind Universitywide tenure.
Although Hasselmo and Regents Chairman Tom Reagan have said repeatedly that plans to change tenure did not stem from the appropriation, Hasselmo called Kelso’s announcement “very good news.”
“That gives the University time to deal with the tenure issue,” he said, adding that the need for the funding may have heated the debate up a little.
Hasselmo was less enthusiastic about news of the statements made Tuesday by the governor at a biotechnology seminar. Hasselmo, who was not at the seminar, declined to comment on Carlson’s harsh statements saying that he wanted to hear them firsthand.
Carlson said Tuesday that the stalled tenure revision process has painted a bad picture of the University to outsiders. “We’re trying to attract a new president,” Carlson said. “Who wants to come here during a civil war? This battle isn’t serving anybody.”
Regent Hyon Kim, an owner of a biotechnology manufacturing company, was on hand to hear Carlson’s remarks.
Kim said the situation made her feel uncomfortable, especially since she was sitting a few steps away from the governor. “It was worse than bad,” Kim said.
“I did thank him after his speech,” Kim added. “I thanked him for being so interested in our situation.”
During Wednesday’s panel discussion, Kelso said she does not think Carlson is out of line in taking such a concerted interest in University politics.
“He has the First Amendment right to express his opinion on this, and he is held accountable” for the well-being of the University, Kelso said.
Carlson signed a funding bill for the University for more than $900 million in 1995. The money was generated from tax revenues, so the public wants assurance its money is well-spent, Kelso said.
Kelso also blasted faculty members for the role they have played in the tenure reform troubles. “I have lost my trust in faculty,” she said. “Faculty behavior has been destructive to the University by sending word that no one wants to come here.”
But Kelso did not align herself with the regents either. Although she said the Faculty Senate’s tenure proposal did not represent enough change, Kelso said the regents’ September proposal was too extreme.

— This article contains information from the Associated Press.