Pawlenty picks new regent

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Tuesday the appointment of Cynthia L. Lesher to the Board of Regents, just one day before the regents are set to gather for this month’s round of meetings.

Lesher will complete the remainder of Richard “Pinky” McNamara’s term, which ends in February 2007.

This is the governor’s second attempt to fill McNamara’s seat. His December appointee, Michael Vekich, resigned before he could serve, citing a conflict of interest.

Because Vekich serves on the board of Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, a seat on the Board of Regents could have cost the University grants resulting from the state’s $6.1 billion settlement with tobacco companies in 1998.

Lesher, of New Brighton, is the president and chief executive of Xcel Energy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. She also serves on the board of directors of area organizations such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Because she was appointed just before the Board of Regents’ monthly meeting, some are concerned Lesher won’t have enough time to familiarize herself with the issues.

“It’s going to take anybody, not just her, six months to get up to speed,” Regent Peter Bell said. “I don’t care how quick a study you are.”

Regents meeting

Regents Bell, Dallas Bohnsack and David Larson agreed this month’s meeting will be a “quiet one,” with not many hot-button issues to stir up controversy.

“I don’t think there are any really major issues to be discussed,” Larson said.

Issues on the agenda include a partnership between the University and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and a review of student issues such as alcohol use and graduation rates.

The regents will vote on a resolution asking the state to fund a partnership between the University’s Rochester campus and the Mayo Clinic called the University-Mayo Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics.

“With students who are considering a career in health care, they will have additional opportunities to study that,” Bell said. “It will move that part of our educational system forward.”

The partnership with the Mayo Clinic is one part of a larger initiative to make the Rochester campus more prominent.

“In the State of State address, (Pawlenty) talked about increasing the University’s presence in Rochester,” Regent Steven Hunter said. “There’s a natural affinity between the University and Mayo in doing research and biotechnology.”

Gov. Pawlenty has proposed and signed legislation creating the Rochester Higher Education Development Committee, which was planned to be presented Friday.

Alcohol use, grad rates

The regents also will look at data compiled by Boynton Health Service about student alcohol use and trends.

“We all worry about alcohol use on campus ” where it’s appropriate, where it’s not,” Bohnsack said. “It’s certainly part of the college scene. It’s been that way for 100 years.”

Bohnsack said the regents won’t necessarily create any new policies based on the information, but they want to stay on top of current trends.

University students’ graduation rates have been improving, a trend Bell said pleases him.

“I am comfortable with the trend line because it’s getting better,” Bell said. “But that’s something you can never sit back and be satisfied with.”

Bell said the University has created incentives for students to take as many credits as they felt comfortable with as a way to improve graduation rates.

“People go to the University to grow and develop as a young person, but also to get a degree,” Bell said. “My expectation is that they get their diploma within four years, but at least within six.”

Other issues

The regents will discuss other issues, including those relating to the proposed on-campus stadium.

They also will vote on whether to renew TCF’s naming rights to the proposed student stadium. The $35 million sponsorship, to be paid over 25 years, expired in December because the state Legislature had not decided on the issue.

On Dec. 22, TCF agreed to extend the deal to June 30.