Bill may alter regent selection

by Sarah Hallonquist

Two lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would lift residential restrictions now imposed on candidates for the University’s Board of Regents positions.
The bill — jointly introduced by Rep. Rob Leighton, DFL-Austin, and Sen. David Ten Eyck, DFL-East Gull Lake — is an attempt at simplifying regent selection. The current process has drawn fire from lawmakers and candidates for being too political and limiting qualified candidates.
In last year’s election process, for example, legislators chose Robert Bergland over Herbert Chilstrom. Both were viewed as top-notch candidates, but because they were both from the 7th Congressional District, only one could get access to the board.
If passed, candidates would still be chosen by a geographical basis, but eligibility would be determined by a metro and non-metro designation. The makeup of the board would consist of at least five members from the metro region and at least five from the non-metro region. The two remaining seats would be chosen on an at-large basis; one of the 12 spots must be filled by a student representative.
“There is a need to continue with some form of geographic representation,” Leighton said, citing the size of the state as a reason to base membership by residence.
The recommended changes closely mirror tenets outlined by a panel set up to discuss how to rework the selection process. The 14-member committee held four hearings last fall where it dissected seven proposals put forth by interest groups such as the University Alumni Association.
Other major suggestions include scrapping political caucus nomination of candidates from the state’s eight congressional districts and shrinking the size of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council from 24 to 15 members. The council narrows the pool before a joint session of the Legislature votes in board membership.
The governor would also have more voice because he would be able to pick one-third of the advisory council members. Under current guidelines, the governor has no say in the council’s composition.
Both the House and Senate would appoint five members each. In addition, the advisory council would be required to forward only two names for each open seat, instead of the traditional two to four names.
House Education Committee Chairman Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, is optimistic about the bill’s chances. By taking politics out of the process, he said the Legislature could attract better candidates who are now turned off by the lobbying.
Rep. Carlson’s committee will take up the bill during a hearing today.
“The people that we are going to have to lobby the hardest to get this passed are rural legislators,” Leighton said. Rural legislators might have some reservations because they have traditionally supported the congressional district model to ensure representation.
At-large Regent Patricia Spence said the changes preserve rural representation because the non-metro areas are outside the seven-county Twin Cities region.
“This bill seems like a good compromise of the best ideas that have come forward,” said Spence, the board’s vice chairwoman. “If it can make the process more attractive to strong candidates and take some of the party politics out of it, I think it’s real positive.”