Regents address problems of University students, staff

by Patrick Hayes

Although many students will not see any members of the Board of Regents during their stint at the University, regents make decisions about campus life that impact nearly every student.
Elected to six-year terms, the board is comprised of 12 members — one from each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts and four from the state at-large, one of which must be a University student when elected — regents decide everything from tuition costs to funding for campus housing.
Throughout the past two years, regents have approved funding for the $5 million expansion of Territorial Hall, $20 million for a new women’s hockey and tennis facility, and more than $50 million for the Coffman Union renovation.
In addition, regents also address problems that affect Minnesota.
Along with University administrators, regents have developed outreach programs to address the state’s agricultural crisis. The outreach program provides ways to improve agricultural production and sales, along with providing extension services.
With help from University President Mark Yudof, regents have also devised a late-September summit on Minnesota’s economy to address the University’s role in shaping the state’s technological economy.
But the most significant action the regents take is to approve the University’s biennial budget proposal.
The proposal includes requests for funding to meet the University’s needs. This year’s budget proposal includes requests for more funding of undergraduate education, more competitive wages for faculty and staff and more funding of research opportunities. It also includes a 3 percent tuition increase and funding for more facilities and student services.
All duties are done without compensation, except for travel expenses.
“It’s probably the most important volunteer job in the entire state,” said Nedra Wicks, chair of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, which recommends regent applicants to the state Legislature.
To become a regent, an applicant must be reviewed and recommended by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, a 24-member board appointed by the Legislature.
The council recommends between two and four candidates for each regent seat and sets the criteria needed to hold the position to the Legislature. The council does not recommend regents for re-election after they serve two terms, Wicks said.
Four seats will be open next February as the terms of Regent Chair Patricia Spence and Regents Warren Larson, Michael O’Keefe and Jessica Phillips expire.
If vying for one of the eight district-determined positions, prospective regents need to be residents of a Congressional district with an open seat. For the other four positions, they only need to be Minnesota residents. They must also have a strong interest in higher education, a civic and social commitment, previous board experience and be of high moral and ethical integrity, according to council documents.
The council also looks for a diverse pool of regents from different professions, so the board reflects the diversity of the state.
For example, Regent Robert Bergland, elected in 1997, was a member of the U.S. Congress from 1970 to 1977 and served as secretary of agriculture under President Carter.
Regent Maureen Reed, elected in 1997, is a physician, medical director and vice president for Health Partners. And Regent David Metzen, also elected in 1997, serves as the superintendent of South St. Paul Public Schools.
If students don’t often see the regents, how can University students have any influence on their decision? The best way to be heard is to go through student representatives, appointed by the Minnesota Student Association.
“It’s not what most students think, that the (regents) just do what they want without considering us first,” said Irene Wen Y Kao, a student representative and University senior.
Students can voice their concerns to the student representatives through student organizations or in person. They also have the option of addressing the regents directly at their monthly meetings on the first Thursday and Friday of every month.
“I hope that students take the initiative to let their voice be heard, either to the regents directly or through the student representatives,” said Spence, who said her number one concern is the student voice.

Patrick Hayes welcomes comments at [email protected]