Independent entity to ease international relations

The new buffer will help University research comply with other countries’ laws.

Jessie Bekker

The University of Minnesota is working to protect itself from hitting bumps in the legal system when conducting research overseas.

Following the lead of other higher education institutions, University administrators proposed earlier this month to create a “buffer entity” to help the school navigate international legal negotiations related to research.

The entity, which the Board of Regents approved at its monthly meeting, will be an independent corporation owned by the University called Minnesota Global Inc. It will consist of a board of directors —made up of University leaders — that will offer legal advice and protection for the school when it is researching in different nations.

The University currently houses most of its international research operations in China. But under Chinese law, the school’s current legal ties will expire in the near future, said University General Counsel Bill Donohue.

As the University expands its undertakings there, he said, administrators want to develop a more established office, which the buffer entity could facilitate.

The school has also consistently been working in India and West Africa, said Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean of international programs.

Still, McQuaid said she doesn’t anticipate immediate use of the corporation in those locations, adding that the buffer
entity could operate in relation to any country where the University is working.

As a separate legal entity, Minnesota Global Inc. will provide the University with some liability protection in cases like tax or employment claims, according to Board of Regents documents.

Although the University hasn’t had international compliance issues in the past, McQuaid said, she’s optimistic the legal entity will help researchers, adding that many universities nationwide own similar corporations for their international legal dealings.

“There’s just more opportunity for faculty to be doing very involved, sometimes complex, research,” she said, “and we just want to be sure we’re doing these projects the right way.”

Donohue, who provided legal advice during the corporation’s creation, said he believes the buffer entity will offer a common ground between the University and the country in which it is operating.

“We want to create it so that we will have a place that is a single point of contact and management for worldwide operations for compliance for countries in which we’re active,” Donohue said.

The entity will also give the University advice on international legal issues where the school typically has little or no experience, McQuaid said.

The corporation is in the final stages of implementation, she said, adding that the board of directors will be inactive until the University calls on it.

Kelly Farmer, the University’s tax director, said the entity will benefit researchers as they increasingly engage in international projects.

“Conducting research globally is a growing field,” he said. “By having this buffer entity, it enables us to set up a legal structure in a country to facilitate being in compliance with all the laws they have.”

McQuaid said the new corporation will help the University pursue more research projects, which extends its value beyond just researchers.

“The ultimate benefit will be to everyone at the University,” she said.