Kim, Neel seek 2nd terms as regent selection starts

Brian Bakst

Five months of politicking and lobbying for four seats on the Board of Regents officially begins Tuesday.
Incumbent regents Hyon Kim and H. Bryan Neel plan to campaign for a second term, while Regent Stanley Sahlstrom will step down from the board in June upon completing two six-year terms. Regent Wendell Anderson, who will have also served two terms, has yet to make his intentions public.
Although there is no term limit for regents, the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, which was established in 1988 to help recruit and interview regent candidates, will not endorse regents after they have served two terms.
The regent selection process, which has been criticized as being too political, is scheduled to be completed by mid-February. This would mark the earliest date new regents are selected since 1957. The Legislature usually picks new regents in April or May.
The advisory council, which consists of 24 public members chosen by the Legislature, asked the Legislature to move the date of the regents’ election forward. “Candidates would be lobbying way too long and then they would be lobbying right in the middle of the (legislative) session,” said Barb Patterson, a staff member of the commission that coordinates the advisory council.
Steven Bosacker, regents executive director, said in past years regent selection got lost amid the Legislature’s other business, such as appropriating funds. He said he hopes the new process will ensure the regents’ selection will be a higher priority The legislative session starts Jan. 7.
Every two years four regents positions are up for election. The 12 regents positions include one for each congressional district, three at-large positions and one student regent position.
The advisory council collects applications and makes two to four recommendations for each seat to the Legislature.
The recommendations are then considered by a joint House and Senate education committee, which endorses one candidate for each position. A joint session of the House and Senate then elect the regents.
The education committee’s endorsements are usually accepted by the full joint session.
But in 1995, the selection process was anything but usual. Regent Warren Larson was elected to the board with only two votes to spare.
Larson lost the education committee endorsement to Richard “Pinky” McNamara. But allegations surfaced on the morning of the elections that McNamara sexually harassed a state representative’s aide, which even Larson said may have contributed to the election outcome.
Some speculated as to whether Regent Jean Keffeler would get reelected amid allegations of an adversarial relationship between her and University President Nils Hasselmo.
Regent Jessica Phillips was criticized for using then-advisory council chairman Tom Renier as a reference, even though Renier was one of the people who would be evaluating her application. Renier had business ties to Phillips’ father.
Minnesota’s regent selection process differs greatly from the University of Wisconsin, a university to which Minnesota is often compared. In Wisconsin, the governor selects two regents per year to the 17-member board. The governor’s appointment must be approved by the state senate. With the exception of a student regent who serves for two years, Wisconsin regents serve 7-year terms.
This year the University’s Alumni Association National Board has asked that a 20-member citizen’s committee re-examine the regent selection process. The association said in September that the many changes facing the University, such as semester conversion and restructuring, make now an “opportune time to focus renewed attention on the importance of governance.”
To be eligible, regent candidates must be Minnesota residents with high moral and ethical integrity. Candidates must also have an interest in higher education, a record of civic and social commitment and previous experience on boards of directors or other governing bodies.