Finding new regents

Lawmakers should work to diversify the people — and ideas — on the board.

by Daily Editorial Board

Almost every month, a group of overwhelmingly wealthy, male and white public servants gather in the McNamara Alumni Center to vote on policy for the University of Minnesota, one of the largest public institutions in the state that serves tens of thousands of people.

Meet the Board of Regents. There are only 12 of them, and theyâÄôve been responsible for approving the presidentâÄôs proposed tuition hikes year after year. Very few of them chirp a word in healthy dissent during public regents meetings, and almost none vote against any proposal put before the board.

The Legislature is set to name four regents who will serve six-year terms. We recommend a shakeup in the new appointees. Here are some qualities we seek in new regents:

Regents connected to the student body they should serve; regents who value open debate; regents willing to challenge the president; regents recognized less for connections, wealth and political clout than for unqualified integrity.

Regent Dean Johnson served in the Minnesota Legislature for 27 years âÄî first as a Republican and then as a DFLer âÄî and he has been a Lutheran pastor for at least 36 years. Johnson lost re-election after he falsely alleged a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice assured him the Court would not permit gay marriage.

He was selected to be a regent in 2007, soon after being voted out of office.

At least six of the regents have served on 14 other governing boards. Most are well-educated, prosperous professionals at the top of their professions. All of them have plenty of connections through their careers and the boards on which theyâÄôve served.

Regent Richard Beeson has served on six different boards, including as the chairman of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and Central Corridor Partnership. Regent Steven Hunter, the secretary/treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, has served on at least five governing boards. Regent David Larson is an executive vice president for Cargill. Regent Venora Hung has also previously worked at Cargill and is a practicing attorney.

When the regents vote, they do so as a unified front.

For a decade, with hundreds of measures put in front of them, there have only been a few handfuls of dissenting votes. From 1996 to 2007, according to a Minnesota Daily report, the regents never voted down a measure put in front of them âÄî 859 in all âÄî unanimously approving 98 percent of those measures.

Public board meetings amount to exhibits of uniformity for the public.

When our public servants have never practiced dissent in a vote or intelligently probed âÄî in the publicâÄôs view âÄî a policy presented to them, they are mocking the purpose of their public meetings and votes. The regentsâÄô voting records suggest they are violating their stated responsibilities as regents, which include “foster[ing] openness and trust among members of the Board, the administration, the faculty, the students, state government and the public.”

Currently, there are four spots on the board that will be filled by the Legislature this January. So far, 40 applications have been received to fill the position. Diversity âÄî of person and opinion âÄî is what lawmakers should keep in mind when appointing new regents.