U Regent O’Keefe named MCAD president, resigns state office

Shira Kantor

University Regent Michael O’Keefe resigned from his post as Minnesota human services commissioner last week to become president of a local arts college.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Board of Trustees appointed O’Keefe president Wednesday. O’Keefe said he is unsure how the new post will affect his regent position.

“I haven’t really sat down to assess that yet,” O’Keefe said. “I chose it because it’s an exciting opportunity and a fine college.”

O’Keefe will fill the vacancy created when the college’s current president, John Slorp, retires July 1. O’Keefe has said he will continue working in Gov. Jesse Ventura’s administration until the current legislative session concludes. O’Keefe said the decision to leave the administration was a difficult one.

Bruce Bean, MCAD Board of Trustees chairman, said Slorp has done much to improve the institution’s quality, but the incoming O’Keefe – with his extensive background in education – is expected to propel the school to even greater heights.

“He can take the institution from where it is and make it stronger,” Bean said.

In addition to serving as one of the 12 University regents, O’Keefe is an Aspen Institute education program co-chairman and has held top positions at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare; and the University of Illinois.

O’Keefe is also the former president of the Consortium for the Advancement of Private Higher Education in Washington, D.C.

O’Keefe’s own education is based in the sciences. He has a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh in nuclear physics and mathematics.

Bean said while O’Keefe has a background in art “only by interest” and has no formal arts training, it
didn’t diminish O’Keefe’s standing in the eyes of MCAD trustees or faculty.

“Over half of the art colleges in the U.S. are headed by non-artists anyway,” Bean said.

University Regent David Metzen said O’Keefe’s talents and high expectations will benefit MCAD.

“He’s a very talented man,” Metzen said. “He is willing to kind of challenge traditional thinking. I think he has a very probing mind.”