Resigned president offered high position

Craig Gustafson

Ð2000 The Minnesota Daily

Ken Keller, who was forced to resign as University president for fiscal misconduct, was offered a high-ranking University position recently vacated because of financial mismanagement, according to an e-mail obtained by The Minnesota Daily.
But sources contacted Tuesday either would not confirm or simply denied the alleged offer.
Keller, who resigned in 1988, was offered the top position as head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, according to the message sent Monday by Program Director Arthur Erdman.
“Ken … shared that he had been offered the chair of BME,” the message states.
Erdman’s staff sent the e-mail message just before noon Monday to seven other members of the biomedical engineering management committee, including Dennis Polla, who recently resigned from the head position.
Responses from University officials on the alleged job offer were varied; one official sternly denied the e-mail’s validity while another said the situation is changing daily.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s not possible, but I wouldn’t say it happened, either,” said Steven Crouch, Institute of Technology’s associate dean of finance and planning.
“To the best of my knowledge, no offer has been made to anyone,” he said.
Crouch would have knowledge of any deal because the biomedical department is currently under IT’s jurisdiction. He said if Keller had been offered any deal, it was likely unofficial and nonbinding.
Paul Sorenson, director of communications for IT, was more definitive.
“He’s not a candidate for the job at this point,” Sorenson said.
Keller and Polla
If Keller is indeed the new department head, the choice might raise a few eyebrows around campus.
Keller resigned as University president after local media discovered mismanagement of funds in the renovation of Eastcliff, the presidential mansion.
Polla, who resigned as head of the biomedical department on Jan. 7, suffered a similar fate. A $500,000 University investigation found Polla mishandled private and federal funds while billing the federal government inappropriately.
Independent auditors found evidence that Polla misused $110,000 of the $3.4 million the department received. He overspent several federal grants, bringing those accounts into deficit by putting the money into unrelated projects.
Both Polla and Keller remain University employees despite the investigations proving financial mismanagement.
Keller is currently a faculty member in the chemical engineering department, while Polla took a $12,669 pay cut to remain a University researcher. He now makes $126,694 a year.
The message
The e-mail message was anonymously faxed to Daily offices Monday afternoon. Erdman expressed disappointment that the message had been distributed.
“It’s unfortunate that someone found it necessary to get information to you that was not complete,” Erdman said. “It is not accurate because things are happening so fast, so you have to wait and see what happens.”
The message states Keller visited with Institute of Technology Dean Ted Davis last week, expressing “his observation that the support level for biomedical engineering was not adequate for growth of the department.”
The Department of Biomedical Engineering is a joint operation between IT and the Medical School. According to the message, Medical School Dean Al Michael is expected to contact Keller.
The message also said Keller received “a very positive response” from Jack Linehan, vice president of the Whitaker Foundation, after informing him of the biomedical engineering chair offer.
The Whitaker Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting biomedical engineering. The foundation has awarded more than $450 million to colleges and universities for faculty research, graduate fellowships and program development.
According to the message, Linehan suggests that if Keller got the position, the Whitaker Foundation would likely “entertain an invitation” to visit the University and consider the Department of Biomedical Engineering for a development award.
The Leadership-Development Award from the foundation ranges from $5 million to $20 million and assists in establishing major centers for biomedical education.
But Crouch said the biomedical engineering department has already withdrawn its application for the award because the department is in such disarray.
“We don’t have a head. We don’t have a vision,” he said. “I believe the challenge is now to regroup ourselves and present a better face.”

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.