Twelve regent candidates recommended to Legislature

The candidates include four women, eight men and four people of color, including one who could become the first Native American regent in the University’s 200-year history.

The Board of Regents meet about the East Gateway Project Resolution, on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. The Board of Regents holds a meeting each month.

Image by Emily Urfer

The Board of Regents meet about the East Gateway Project Resolution, on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. The Board of Regents holds a meeting each month.

by Samantha Hendrickson, City Reporter

As the legislative session starts gaining steam, the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC) is narrowing the playing field for the upcoming University of Minnesota regent elections.

The RCAC recommended 12 candidates to the Minnesota Legislature as lawmakers consider who will become the next regents of the University. But some also criticize RCAC’s lack of candidate diversity and role in the election process.

Four regent seats are up for election this year from the 1st, 4th, 6th and 7th Congressional Districts. Incumbent regents Michael Hsu and Randy Simonson are up for reelection, while regents Richard Beeson and Thomas Anderson have not reapplied to their seats.

Dan Wolter, chair of the RCAC, said the regent election process is one of the only times that both the state’s House of Representatives and Senate come together as a single body to vote.

“[The University of Minnesota] has a pretty central role in the state,” Wolter said. “It shows you how important it is to the state of Minnesota.”

The RCAC received 20 applications, and interviewed 19 total after one applicant dropped out.

RCAC continues to focus on diversity as lawmakers and others have pushed for a more representative Board of Regents. This year, the council recommended four women and eight men. Four of the men are people of color, including Brandon Alkire, who could become the first Native American regent in the University’s 200 year history.

“[Native Americans] are one of the biggest landholders in our state,” said Alkire, director of Justice for Families, a program within the Hennepin County court system. “To be a land holder … with 11 different jurisdictions and 11 different governments, to not have a voice on the Board of Regents is a real miscarriage of justice.”

Alkire graduated last year as a nontraditional student from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law after receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University. While his law school graduation was “anticlimactic,” he stressed the importance of bringing the perspective of a student during the pandemic, much like his rival fourth-district candidate, James Farnsworth.

When Farnsworth is not fulfilling his role as director of the Highland Business Association, running for St. Paul School Board or involved in one of many campus groups, he studies human resource development on the University’s Twin Cities campus.

He said that it is vital to have a student perspective, especially on things like tuition and education quality during COVID-19.

“So much has changed about what it means to be a student right now,” Farnsworth said. “It’s a really key time to have the perspective of a student on the receiving end of that education.”

Kodi Verhalen, a lawyer and engineer from the sixth congressional district, said she is excited for the Board of Regents possibly having equal numbers of male and female regents.

But, she said there could always be more women.

“I would love to see more women putting themselves forward for this [position]. I know a lot of really amazing women in Minnesota who bring unique perspectives to positions like this,” Verhalen said. “I hope that they see this as an opportunity to start.”

Besides the historic lack of diversity, lawmakers and current regents have made their critiques for the RCAC well-known.

Currently, the Legislature can pick candidates that are not recommended by RCAC. Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, is urging the RCAC to remove this option.

“The RCAC goes through great lengths in recruiting, interviewing and recommending candidates,” Clausen said. “In many ways, it may discourage people from applying. How would you like to apply, go through the process of interviewing, and all of a sudden someone that you’ve never heard of gets nominated from the floor and elected?”

Current Regent Darrin Rosha has long been a staunch critic of the RCAC process. He called the council an “insider’s club,” and said that it has strayed from its original purpose.

“It was, in theory, established to provide good honest attempts at recruiting and recommending regents to the Legislature,” Rosha said. “Now, the authority or the power of RCAC is not recommending candidates, but in excluding candidates that the insiders don’t feel are their preferred candidates.”

Wolter, chair of RCAC, does not disagree with Rosha’s critiques, and said that the “insider’s club” attitude and issues of preference made it difficult in years past to present diverse candidates to the legislature.

However, he said he is confident that this year is not a reflection of that past.

“We’ve worked hard to correct that, by recommending a fuller, more diverse slate of candidates rather than just a short list of those popular with U of M insiders,” Wolter said. “The change is both notable and good for the entire process.”