Regent candidates face a grueling selection process

by Heather Fors

Around a daunting I-shaped dark wood and glass table, the University’s 12 most powerful decision makers come from all over the state to shape and govern the school.
These individuals — the regents appointed by the state Legislature — dedicate their time to bettering the state’s largest institute of higher education.
The board is comprised of one representative from each of Minnesota’s congressional districts and four at-large positions. This year, three district seats and one at-large position are up for grabs.
Every two years four regent positions open up for public application. This year, residents from the second, third and eighth congressional districts with aspirations of serving the University have a shot at scoring a seat on the board. There is also one at-large position available for which anyone can apply.
The applications are all read by a 24-member Regents Candidate Advisory Council appointed by the state Legislature. The council’s task is to seek out and recommend to the Legislature no less than two, but no more than four, people for the job.
The council reviews the applications and narrows the pool to between 15 and 25 candidates. These applicants are each interviewed and the finalists are sent on to be interviewed by the House and Senate — usually during a joint session.
“That’s a longer selection process than a lot of people want to go through,” said Humphrey Doermann, chairman of the candidate advisory council.
Regent David Metzen, who received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University, ran for the regents position twice before getting elected on the third try in 1997.
He said a lot of people don’t become regents after the first time.
“Part of life is perseverance,” Metzen said. “I have a strong belief that you give back where you’ve taken from.”
The selection committee takes the friction between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature out of the process for the first round, Metzen said. But once an applicant makes it past the council, he or she must sell themselves to the legislators. A recommendation from the council is not a guaranteed appointment.
“The Legislators can do whatever they like,” said Gregg Orwoll, a vice chairman of the council.
Some regents estimate they spend about 40 hours a month working as regents — which includes taking time off work to attend meetings. Because they’re not paid, it is even harder to find people willing to volunteer.
Despite all this, the first year the council was set to task in 1988, about 140 applications flooded the office. The next year only about 90 applicants applied.
So far this year there have only been about five applications.
“I’m not pushing the panic button,” Doermann said.
He added that he’s sure the council will receive many more applications before the Dec. 1 deadline.
Orwoll said fewer people generally apply when an incumbent is running.
Three of the four regents whose positions are up for selection are reapplying — Regent Tom Reagan, who holds an at-large position — is not.
While being a regent is hard work, the rewards of graduating successful students and creating a top-notch University are what keeps some regents going.
Regent Bill Peterson, who is running for re-election this year but hasn’t submitted his application yet, said the biggest pleasure he gets from being a regent comes when he hands diplomas to the students and sees the look of pride on their faces.
“To me that is the most pleasurable thing in the world,” he said.
Other regents simply love education and want to ensure the University continues to deliver to all students.
“I believe it’s the single most important changing factor in someone’s life,” said Regent William Hogan II.