List of regents candidates narrowed

After a day of interviews and a hectic voting process, 12 candidates for four open spots on the University of Minnesota’s governing board have been forwarded to the Legislature for consideration.

by Conor Shine

Twelve finalists have emerged for four open spots on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Board of Regents after a day of interviews and a chaotic round of voting Wednesday. 

Sixteen candidates were interviewed over three days for the vacancies on the UniversityâÄôs governing board which is responsible for approving budgets, new building plans and policy changes.

Current regents Steven Hunter and David Larson were among the finalists chosen by a 24-member citizen advisory council for consideration by the House and Senate higher education committees, who will present a final slate of candidates to the full Legislature for approval.

During his interview Wednesday, Hunter talked about the stark financial difficulties facing the University and said the school would need to âÄúright-sizeâÄù itself amidst the upcoming presidential transition.

âÄúI think weâÄôre going to have to eliminate some programs,âÄù he said. âÄúMy goal would be that a year from now we can say we had a smooth transition and âĦ as part of that smooth transition we made progress towards rightâÄìsizing the University in terms of its programs, administration and staff.âÄù

One long-time member of the advisory council described HunterâÄôs interview as one of the greatest heâÄôd seen during his tenure, while others expressed concern about HunterâÄôs ability to separate his roles advocating for the AFL-CIO, his employer, and the University.

The Legislature must replace regents representing Congressional Districts 2, 3 and 8, which include counties south of the metro area, the northern suburbs of Hennepin County and northeastern Minnesota. One at-large representative to the board will also be chosen.

Hunter was one of three candidates chosen for the at-large bid, along with Allen Anderson, an executive with the Minnesota-based agricultural cooperative CHS Inc., and Robert Kennedy, the outgoing president of the University of Maine.

Kennedy was at the center of much of WednesdayâÄôs discussion and was called a âÄújewelâÄù and an âÄúabsolute treasureâÄù by board members due to his previous experience in higher education.

âÄúThis is the type of regent the University of Minnesota needs and deserves,âÄù said council member Margaret Carlson, the former CEO of the UniversityâÄôs alumni association.

During his tenure at the University of Maine, Kennedy dealt with many of the same problems facing the University of Minnesota, and talked about his experiences growing the schoolâÄôs research portfolio, capitalizing on discoveries made by university researchers and partnering with other colleges throughout the state.

The voting process was hectic at times, with motions and substitute motions tossed about and confusion among the council members about which items were up for consideration. 

The first ballot for the 8th district candidates was thrown out and a revote held after some ballots were turned in before the discussion period had finished.

After two more rounds of voting, Kennedy was also selected as a candidate from the 8th district and was joined by Robert Ostlund, a former superintendent of multiple metro area school districts, and David McMillan, an executive with Minnesota Power.  William Burns, a Duluth-based attorney, was not voted in as an 8th district finalist, but was immediately added to the list following a post-vote motion.

Having 24 people on the council with differing opinions led to the intense discussion, said member Jim Erickson, but he thinks the proceedings resulted in a strong âÄúmenuâÄù of candidates for the Legislature to choose from.

âÄúI wanted to give [the Legislature] a range of choices they can make,âÄù he said. âÄúOur job is to give them the best people who are fully qualified âĦ now they will decide what expertise they want on the board.âÄù

In the 2nd district, outgoing state representative Laura Brod was chosen along with former House speaker Steve Sviggum and Thomas Devine, an executive at David Agency, Inc., an insurance company.

Regent Larson, a Cargill executive, was among those chosen from the 3rd district and will faceoff against Norman Rickeman, a former executive at technology-consulting firm Accenture, and Dr. Roby Thompson, who spent 30 years as a professor and associate dean in the University of MinnesotaâÄôs medical school.