Devine hopes to represent students

Tom Devine was selected by the Legislature last week to replace Sviggum.

Devine hopes to represent students

Dina Elrashidy


Since his graduation from the University of Minnesota in 1979, Tom Devine has stayed heavily involved with his alma mater.

And now, he will hold one of its most powerful positions as a newly appointed regent.

Devine will take over for former Regent Steve Sviggum, who left the board in March after a lengthy conflict of interest review concluded he could not simultaneously serve as a regent and the communications chief with the Senate Republican Caucus.

Having traveled to more than 150 campuses across the country and taken opportunities to speak with students, Devine said he has a “much bigger vantage point of what’s going on in higher ed.”

Devine, a co-owner of Edina-based insurance company The David Agency, said affordable student housing is one of the biggest issues that he’d like to address in his term, which will last until 2017.

Devine said the University hasn’t focused on ensuring there is affordable housing for juniors and seniors, who don’t often live in dorms or University apartments.

“A lot of the housing that’s been built in the last 36 months was privately built,” Devine said. “We need to pay attention to those upper class students. They’re borrowing money to live in these new buildings.”

This is one area that the University could work on to lower the high prices of housing which adds to student debt.

“You always hear about tuition increases,” Devine said. “Equally important is what it costs to live on campus.”

The issues are the same in the satellite campuses, he said.

History with the University

Devine graduated with what is now referred to as an individualized degree, combining his interest in architectural history and business.

Many of his activities since have involved the University. Devine joined the Alumni Association after graduating and later joined the University Legislative Network, the association’s lobbying arm.

Also, as an alumnus of Sigma Alpha Epsilon  — known for the lions in front of their yard — Devine became an adviser, serving as a national officer for 13 years.

“I’ve never really gone away from the University,” Devine said.

His son is currently a freshman at the University.

Through the University Legislative Network, Devine became an advocate in the Legislature for the school. Among his duties is lobbying for its interests, like increasing the University’s share of bonding bills.

“It’s second nature to be talking about the University of Minnesota,” Devine said.

He advocated for bringing football back to campus and testified about its importance to the Legislature. 

TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009.

He also spoke with legislators about finding solutions for the stadium liquor bill. The absence of liquor sales has caused financial losses for the University, he said.

“I don’t know that you’ll be able to stop alcohol abuse or misuse at the door of TCF,” he said.

Devine’s presence at the Capitol has been noticeable, said Rep. Bud Nornes, chair of the House’s Higher Education Committee.

“He’s spent almost as much time at the Capitol as I have in the past two years,” Nornes said.

Board of Regents Chair Linda Cohen said she’s previously seen Devine at the Legislature and spoken with him several times. She and Devine met Wednesday to orient him on the duties of the job, which he will continue to do until the board meets again in May.

“He seems to be devoted to the University,” Cohen said before the meeting.

Last year, Devine also competed for a spot on the Board of Regents. Ultimately, the Legislature selected Sviggum, Laura Brod, David McMillan and incumbent David Larson.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said at the time that the regent selection process had become too politicized. Devine agreed, saying fewer people are applying to become regents because of the political process.

Though he lost, Devine said he has no regrets. He said he’s been able to get to know more people at the Legislature and the regents through the process last year.

Because of his experience, he was able to quickly begin campaigning for the regent position this year. Devine said he worked both years to gain bipartisan support.

Preparing for the job

Before taking on the role, Devine said he is stepping down from several potential conflicts of interest with “mixed emotions.”

Devine stepped down from his position as a member of a work group for Minnesota’s health care exchange. He will also discontinue his advising role with Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the Recreational Sports Alumni.

Devine said he’s been working to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest and will continue to do so.

“I’ve watched carefully; now I want to be proactive to make certain that it doesn’t become a conflict,” Devine said.

Devine comes in after a lengthy conflict of interest review concluded that Sviggum couldn’t serve on both the Senate Republican Caucus and be a regent.

“Steve’s done a lot of wonderful work for the state of Minnesota. That certainly needs to be recognized,” Devine said. “He made the decision that was best for what he needed to do. I’m the benefactor of that opening — that’s the way it worked out.”

As for Devine, he hopes to address student concerns while serving as regent — a position he’s had his eye on for a while.

Rukavina said he told Devine not to turn into a “bobblehead” — someone who passively nods in agreement to administrators.

“He promised me he wouldn’t,” Rukavina said. “I think he’ll work out just fine.”