O’Keefe appears solid in interview

Joel Sawyer

and Jessica Steeno

Interviews for the Board of Regents continued Friday as several prominent candidates, including current Regent Michael O’Keefe and former speaker of the Minnesota House Harry Sieben, Jr., made their case for selection to the University’s 12-member policy-making board.
Twenty-three candidates are vying for five open seats on the board. With only two current regents — H. Bryan Neel and O’Keefe — seeking reappointment, the board is assured of at least three new members this spring.
Although O’Keefe could be ousted, Regent Candidate Advisory Council members gave no indication they would do so during or after O’Keefe’s interview.
“I’d be shocked if he wasn’t one of the names forwarded to the Legislature,” said council member Paul Thatcher.
On Tuesday, the council will recommend two to four candidates for each opening to an education committee in the Legislature. The committee will then select one finalist for each of the five open seats. Those finalists will be voted on by a joint session of the Legislature by Feb. 20.
O’Keefe, the executive vice president for the McKnight Foundation, is seeking legislative approval to finish resigned Regent Jean Keffeler’s term, which expires in 2001.
Specially appointed by Gov. Arne Carlson in November to fill Keffeler’s spot, O’Keefe cited his knowledge of higher education and experience serving on boards that deal with complex policy issues as the reasons he should retain his post.
He said his experience as a regent so far had taught him that the board needs to change the way it operates. The board needs to concern itself with policy-making, not “nitty-gritty micro issues,” he said.
Hamline Law Professor Joseph Daly, one of O’Keefe’s two competitors in the Fifth Congressional District, told the council that he was up against a tough opponent.
“I’d like to do this, but I understand that the governor appointed Mr. O’Keefe,” he said. “He’s well respected, so I understand — and if another time comes, I’m ready.”
Daly did, however, make a strong case for himself. He noted that he wrote a book about tenure and said he understood the issue that has plagued the board in recent months.
“You ought to have somebody like me on the Board of Regents, who can tell people the reason for tenure, why it exists, what its function is and explain the relationship of tenure to the pursuit of truth and the academic mission of the University,” he said.
Sieben, who appears to be a leading contender for the Sixth District seat based on name recognition alone, admitted to having little knowledge about issues such as tenure and the University’s finances. He also said he was not sure how to change the tarnished image of the board.
“I don’t have any great ideas or great philosophical changes (for the University),” he said, but added that he wants the University to be an institution of high quality that is affordable to students and pays its professors well.
Four of the seven candidates for outgoing Fourth District Regent Hyon Kim’s seat were also interviewed Friday.
John Kendall, former president of Gustavus Adolphus College, said he wanted to be a regent because he feels he owes the University.
“I have a real debt to pay here,” he said. “I got a marvelous education at this University. It’s payback time for me.”
Kendall said he thinks one problem the current board faces is that they have not been functioning as a unit.
“Part of the problem were internal divisions within the board itself, and that’s sort of a recipe for disaster,” he said. “I would look for all sorts of strategies to address those things. We’ve got to get to know each other. We’ve got to understand each other, and we’ve got to respect one another. We’ve got to be very careful about private agendas.”
David Metzen, superintendent of South St. Paul Public Schools, said the University needs to clean up its image.
“I think (the University) is doing a lot of wonderful things,” he said. “But for whatever reason people aren’t perceiving that. I think it all goes back to funding. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but they want to get value for their money. I think until the public perceives the University as something they’re proud of, they’re going to have a hard time getting money from the Legislature.”
This is not the first time Metzen sat in front of the council. Kim was chosen for the Fourth District seat over Metzen and several others, including current council member Billie Young, in 1994.
The council interviewed two other candidates from the Fourth District Friday: Charlton Dietz, a retired lawyer and executive for 3M; and George Reilly, an attorney and president of Variety Children’s Association.
Seventh District candidates Paul Brutlag, an attorney and farmer, and Patricia Jensen, executive director of AURI, an agricultural research institute, were also interviewed.
They will face stiff competition from former U.S. Rep. and Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland. Bergland will join Neel and five others in interviews that conclude today.