‘We had no idea’: Regents unaware of firm’s history

Some regents expressed concern over Alberto Pimentel’s involvement in a failed University search.

Regent Steve Sviggum asks Provost Karen Hanson a question at the Board of Regents meeting on Friday, June 8, 2018 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Tony Saunders

Regent Steve Sviggum asks Provost Karen Hanson a question at the Board of Regents meeting on Friday, June 8, 2018 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Helen Sabrowsky

Some University of Minnesota Regents say they had no knowledge of an unsuccessful administrative search at the University by the third-party firm hired to find the University’s next president.

The board announced last month that Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates will lead the next presidential search. Regents have voiced concern about the firm’s 2011 search for the position of the University’s Vice President and Chief Information Officer, which some say they were unaware of during the firm selection process.

The candidate hired, Scott Studham, was later asked by President Eric Kaler to resign when allegations of misconduct were discovered from his time of employment at the University of Tennessee.

Regents Michael Hsu, Randy Simonson, Steve Sviggum and Ken Powell said they were unaware of the firm’s involvement in the Studham search.

“We had no idea,” said Hsu of Pimentel’s involvement with the unsuccessful Studham search, although he said he was familiar with Studham’s resignation and the firm’s other successful work with the University.

“[The Studham search] would have raised some questions, but I don’t think it would have provided an absolute ‘no’ vote, had we voted,” Sviggum said. “But I was not aware of that situation at all.”

Hsu said it wasn’t necessarily the firm’s fault that they were unable to successfully place a candidate. He stressed the importance of running background checks and vetting.

“So then the question is: whose responsibility is that,” he said. “I think it could be very embarrassing if we select a group of finalists and a bunch of accusations come out.” 

Board Vice Chair Powell, who chose the search firm along with Chair David McMillan, said that while he was not aware of the firm’s involvement in placing Studham, many firms have failed searches.

“Any firm that we talked to, especially the big ones, all have searches that didn’t work out … it kind of goes with the territory,” Powell said. “It’s something that would have been true for any of the firms we looked at.”

Simonson said the University will continue working with the firm in the search for the next president.

“Well it’s certainly interesting why we didn’t hear about [the Studham search] before, but we have a signed document that we have to honor now.” Simonson said. “That is something that we have to be aware of.”

Simonson said he is comfortable moving forward with the search because the search is a “team effort.” In addition to working closely with University regents, the firm will also work alongside a Search Advisory Committee made up of University personnel.

“They’ll bring candidates to us, but ultimately they aren’t going to decide,” Simonson said.

Finding the firm

Out of the seven firms that were initially interviewed, Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates was chosen to serve as the independent search firm, Powell said.

Other regents say they were not consulted in the process.

Sviggum said the full board met with the firm at its July board retreat in Red Wing. The regents discussed the firm; however, there was no vote on whether the University should use the firm, he said.

“They presented themselves very well at our retreat in Red Wing,” he said. “They seemed very confident and very knowledgeable about higher education across the country and we seemed comfortable with them.”

Vetting candidates and performing background checks is a responsibility of the search firm, which will present a list of candidates suitable for the job to the regents for consideration.

Powell said that Pimentel has expressed confidence in Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates’ ability to screen candidates.

“We had a conversation on that topic with Pimentel and that is a capability they bring,” he said. “I think [the firm has] an approach and a process, but we will be closely involved in that process.”

Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates recently ran a search for the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, which ran for two years. The search was ultimately unsuccessful.

“We weren’t really told, actually we weren’t told at all, we read in the Star Tribune that they were involved in the failed search at Minnesota State,” Hsu said. “That was kind of a concern to me, that nobody seemed to know [about it] until [the firm was] hired, so I looked at that as a failure on our part to not properly vet this firm,” he said.

The Minnesota State search was briefly discussed at the board’s special meeting in August.

Alberto Pimentel, who will serve as a Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates consultant in the University’s presidential search, did not comment at the meeting on the failed Minnesota State System search, citing that he did not directly work on it.

Pimentel declined to comment on this story.