Meet the University’s new regents

The state legislature elected four new regents to the board earlier this month.

The University's Board of Regents convene on Friday, Sep. 14, 2018 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Jack Rodgers

The University’s Board of Regents convene on Friday, Sep. 14, 2018 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Abbey Machtig, Campus Administration Reporter

The four individuals elected to the Board of Regents earlier this month are now in the process of preparing for their new roles at the University of Minnesota.

While serving on the governing body that oversees the entire University, these regents will make decisions on tuition and the budget, and oversee other large initiatives. The new regents, Ruth Johnson, Doug Huebsch, James Farnsworth and Kodi Verhalen spoke with the Minnesota Daily to discuss their backgrounds and priorities for the University.

Ruth Johnson

Hailing from Rochester, Minnesota, Johnson occupies the 1st Congressional District seat on the board.

In addition to working as a physician at the Mayo Clinic, Johnson also has experience in administrative roles at universities. She served on the board of trustees at Augsburg University for 17 years.

The experience of being an administrator and serving on a variety of committees has prepared her for this role, she said.

“I understand what it means to do governance, which is the role of the board — not to manage or micromanage, it’s to have the big picture government,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s identity as a woman and as a “women’s health advocate” will be an important part of her position on the board, she said.

“It’s very important to have different perspectives and that women’s experience. We have certain kinds of experiences that bring that richness and a depth and an understanding to our work in anything, including education on a governance board,” Johnson said. “Our life experiences balance against some of the life experiences of men that can be somewhat different.”

At the Mayo Clinic, Johnson became the first woman to serve as the associate director of the Internal Medicine Residency program, the largest program of its kind in the nation. She also founded and directed the Mayo Diagnostic Breast Clinic, which serves more than 10,000 women a year.

Johnson said that using her knowledge and experience as a physician to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be a priority as a regent. In addition, Johnson said improving the standing of the University’s Medical School is another goal she has for her time on the board.

Doug Huebsch

Occupying the 7th District seat, Huebsch comes to the University from northwestern Minnesota, where he works as a farmer and small business owner.

Huebsch is closely associated with the University, where all three of his children attended. He also previously served as the chair of the Alumni Association. Huebsch said he decided to run for a position on the board to keep advancing the University’s mission.

“If something is stagnant, you’re not moving the institution forward and we know we have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of things that are going great, and we have a lot of great leaders but we have to continue marching forward,” he said.

For Huebsch, keeping students at the center of decision making and addressing increasing student debt and tuition rates will be a priority.

“I’m not going to tell you that I’m never going to raise tuition, because that’s an impossible thing to tell you. But we do need to make sure that as we increase tuition that the students are going to be successful,” he said. “We just have to look at all these other avenues of revenue, like our intellectual property or our alumni.”

James Farnsworth

Farnsworth, a fourth-year University student, was elected to the 4th District seat on the board.

Farnsworth, who also ran for a regent position in the 2019 election, has served in the Minnesota Student Association and on University Senate committees during his time as a student. Although Farnsworth took the semester off from classes to focus on his new role as a regent, he said he plans to complete his Human Resource Development degree in the near future.

Engaging with and offering the perspectives of students to the board will be a main focus for him as a regent, Farnsworth said.

“I would like to do some proactive outreach as well, so it’s not folks just feeling like they have to come to me,” he said. “I just want to pride myself in being as accessible as possible, especially to students, because I know what it’s like being in the shoes of a student and doing that student advocacy and outreach.”

Farnsworth also said he wants to push for increased accountability from the University.

“For me, accountability looks like asking tough questions, challenging administration about what the perception of something looks like, or making sure that if folks are displeased with a decision that the board has made or something that’s going on in administration, making sure to bring that up.”

Students have been advocating for the renaming of several campus buildings due to their namesakes’ racist history, two years after the board voted against renaming buildings in 2019. Farnsworth suggested creating a renaming policy before voting on renaming actual buildings, should the board discuss it in the future.

“That was what went wrong last time is that they [the board] weren’t having the policy discussion,” Farnsworth said. “First, it just went to the motion of renaming individual buildings. My position on that is that we need to do the policy work first before we talk about renaming any particular buildings.”

Kodi Verhalen

A University of Minnesota Duluth alum, engineer and lawyer, Kodi Verhalen was also elected to the board earlier this month. Verhalen replaced former regent Michael Hsu in the 6th District seat.

Verhalen said the events of the past year, such as the pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd, encouraged her to run for a regent position at the University.

“What I recognized was [that] we as a society, in general, have not had a great opportunity to just totally reinvent what life, work, education, society looks like,” she said. “I think the last 12 months have given us an opportunity not only to identify where our weaknesses are, but where our strengths are, and how we want to come out of this.”

Verhalen also said she was excited to see the growth of people who identify as women on the board. A mother of one, Verhalen became president of the National Society of Professional Engineers when her daughter was 9 months old.

“I will say, [the] five women [on the Board of Regents] — we’re not all the same, we’re all coming at it from different perspectives. I have a young daughter and so I’m approaching it differently than someone who may have grown children or no children,” Verhalen said. “I think the commonality is, we’re all interested in supporting the University of Minnesota in the state of Minnesota in different ways. “

Before voting or discussing important topics, like tuition costs or the renaming of campus buildings, Verhalen said discussing with different stakeholder groups will be important for her.

“I like to … let [stakeholders] process through their conversation and where they’re coming from and how they are approaching the issue as well, without me inserting myself,” Verhalen said. “And then [I] have that conversation with the decision-makers about the things I’m hearing and the things that I feel like we’re still missing before we can make a decision.”