Regent quits before he starts

Than Tibbetts

Michael Vekich’s term as a University Regent ended as quickly as it began Friday.

Vekich told Gov. Tim Pawlenty he would not serve on the Board of Regents because of a conflict of interest.

Vekich serves on the board of the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, a conflict of interest that could have cost the University grants resulting from the state’s $6.1 billion settlement against tobacco companies in 1998, even if Vekich had resigned from the partnership’s board.

Vekich told Pawlenty he did not want to create any potential issues that would prevent either the partnership or the University from fulfilling their respective missions, including “protecting the public health of Minnesotans.”

Brian McClung, the governor’s press secretary, said the governor’s office will begin searching immediately for a replacement appointment to fill the seat vacated by Richard “Pinky” McNamara.

Research report

University Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy gave the board the annual status report on University research.

Several regents expressed concern about the University’s standing among its peers, especially with a shrinking availability of federal research money and an increasingly competitive market for research contracts.

The gap between the University and the top three research spenders has widened over the past decade. Research spending is one important aspect of the University’s goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world.

Regent Peter Bell said he didn’t know if he’d seen a report in his three years on the board that caused him as much concern.

Mulcahy said that although the numbers might have looked depressing, he saw areas of opportunity.

“What gives me a great deal of hope and optimism is I’ve seen a great deal of commitment from faculty and the administration to turn this around.”

Mulcahy said the University needs to undertake a “suite of adjustments,” including in faculty culture.

“Faculty have to help shoulder the burden,” he said.

Mulcahy said the University could also improve by creating a system to better manage large grants that involve researchers across different disciplines.

Regent Frank Berman lamented the state’s lack of support for the University.

“This is maybe the price you pay for the (state’s) failure to support this University,” he said. “Something’s happening out there that’s not happening here.”

Facilities finalized

The Board of Regents approved $1 million to move the offices of the Daily to 2221 University Ave.

The Daily’s current building, 2301 University Ave., is slated to be razed to allow the widening of the road, which may eventually connect to the proposed on-campus stadium project.

The move is expected to take place after the spring semester.

The regents also approved the renovation of the Gibson-Nagurski training and equipment room, which is used by the Gophers football team.

Lora Pabst contributed to this report.