U regent resigns, citing possible conflict of interest

by Brad Unangst

University Regent Michael O’Keefe, who resigned as Minnesota’s Department of Human Services commissioner in February to become president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, resigned Monday from the University’s Board of Regents.

O’Keefe said concerns raised by his colleagues on the Minnesota Private College Council about a conflict of interest between his role on the council and his role as a regent prompted his resignation, effective Monday.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design is a council member.

“Given some of the legislative competition for public dollars, the board of (the Minnesota Private College Council) felt it was not appropriate to be on both boards,” O’Keefe said.

Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed said there was no conflict from the University’s standpoint.

O’Keefe added that taking on his new presidential responsibilities will not allow him time to be a regent, which entails working a six-year, unpaid term.

The regents are waiting to approve University capital and operating budget requests to be presented to the state Legislature in the upcoming session and are conducting a University presidential search slated to be completed by the year’s end.

O’Keefe said his resignation will not handicap the board in completing those tasks.

“If I thought I was leaving them in a lurch I would have either done it sooner or I would have hung on even longer through (the presidential search),” he said.

University officials said while O’Keefe’s announcement was not a surprise, it was a disappointment.

“He was the consummate public servant,” Reed said. “He had the institution’s needs as his highest priority and he was able to address those needs.”

The search for O’Keefe’s replacement has started but no timeline for filling the seat has been established, said John Wodele, Gov. Jesse Ventura’s spokesman.

By law, the governor is allowed to name an interim regent who will serve the remainder of the term, and Ventura intends to make an appointment to fill the seat as soon as possible, Wodele said.

O’Keefe’s vacant seat, along with four seats that will be open next year, could potentially reshape the University’s 12-member governing body.

The Legislature will vote to fill the four seats in spring 2003.

O’Keefe said he anticipated resigning in July after his committee completed a year-long review of the University’s investment policies, but that the presidential search delayed the announcement.

O’Keefe had served on the board since 1996 and was chairman of the Finance and Operations Committee.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter, who worked with O’Keefe on the committee, said Regent Anthony Baraga – the committee’s co-chair – will take over O’Keefe’s duties at October’s board meeting.

Prior to his role as commissioner, O’Keefe held executive positions with the McKnight Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the University of Illinois.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]