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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
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Published June 23, 2024

Proposed bill would overhaul Regent selection process

The bill would add a faculty member and employee organization to the Board of Regents, as well as reform the Council that recommends Regents to the full legislature.
Image by Alice Bennett
Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law on Thursday.

The House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee heard a proposed bill to amend the nomination process of the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents on March 22. The bill received tentative bipartisan support from members on the committee.

This session, legislators across chambers and parties have shared their thoughts on how the current Board is not adequately listening to students or other stakeholders. Rep. Jennifer Schultz, the author of the bill, said she tried to amend the Regent selection process in past sessions but was never able to get bipartisan support. Schultz said during the hearing she is willing to amend the bill to ensure its passage after comments from the Republican lead Rep. Marion O’Neill.

The bill would require one faculty member, one representative from “a University employee organization” and one enrolled member of a federally recognized Native American tribe to sit on the board. In addition, the bill limits Regents to two six-year terms.

The proposal would also change the structure of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC) — the legislative body that recommends Regents to the full legislature. It would include five people appointed by speaker of the House, five appointed by a Senate subcommittee, the five campus’ Student Body Presidents and one faculty member from each campus. Additionally, the bill calls for a designee from five different councils — the Indian Affairs Council, the Council for Minnesotans on African Heritage and the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, among others.

Finally, the bill would also bar legislators from nominating Regents on the floor, meaning only Regents recommended by RCAC are eligible for nomination.

Typically, the legislature convenes the RCAC council every two years to replace or re-elect Regents to the Board. RCAC is currently comprised of 12 members from the House and 12 from the Senate that work together to put forth recommendations to the whole legislature.

Once RCAC announces their nominees, the House and the Senate meet in a joint session to vote on the nominees. Sometimes legislators outside RCAC have nominated individuals like sitting Regent James Farnsworth to serve on the Board.

Legislators and students react

“We actually have a shot at doing this,” Schultz said in an interview with the Minnesota Daily. “The students will be in a much better position to keep moving forward,” she said, citing student additions to RCAC and faculty members on the Board.

O’Neill said during the hearing she had reservations about limiting the legislature’s power on the RCAC committee.

“The legislature has only two levers when it comes to the University of Minnesota. One is the purse string,” said O’Neill in an interview with the Minnesota Daily. “The other level we have is the election of Regents. Unfortunately, what changing RCAC does is it guts the power of the legislature. I find that incredibly problematic.”

However, O’Neill said that the representation of students and faculty on RCAC is a step in the right direction considering how little she feels the Regents have been listening, citing President Gabel’s new contract. She said she would consider altering the balance to include 50% legislators on the council.

“If [Regents] are supposed to be chosen by the legislature, it should be chosen by the legislature,” said O’Neill.

In addition to Gurtaran Johal — the Minnesota Student Association’s (MSA) Board of Regents Representative and who testified in committee in support of the bill — MSA also sent a letter affirming their support for the bill while expressing concern that there is not enough student representation on the Board.

“One [Regent at-large seat] should be for a permanent Twin Cities campus student and then the other seat should be a greater Minnesota system campus’ seat,” said Mitra Kian in an interview with the Minnesota Daily. Kian is the MSA State Government and Legislative Affairs coordinator and a co-signer on the letter.

The University declined to comment on the bill, citing its general practice to not comment on matters of Regent selection.

This bill has added urgency for legislators, as four seats on the Board will be up for nomination next year. Schultz said during the hearing that the bill was altered right up to the first legislative deadline and that there can still be more negotiations between herself and O’Neill.

“I think that the Board of Regents has been very disconnected and disengaged from the campus community,” said Kian. “I believe that’s a result of a lack of student input and community input going into that process of their decision making.”

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