UMN Regent Sviggum resigns as board vice chair

University of Minnesota Regent Steve Sviggum resigned from his leadership position after his comments questioning ‘diversity’ at the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus brought forth calls for his resignation.

Numerous organizations called on Sviggum to step down from his position on the board.

Image by Meagan Lynch

Numerous organizations called on Sviggum to step down from his position on the board.

by Maya Marchel Hoff

Regent Steve Sviggum announced Tuesday his resignation from his position of vice chair on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. 

Sviggum plans to stay on the board for the remainder of his term, which ends in spring 2023.  

“It’s a good start, but now we need to elect a regent of color into his position,” former regent Michael Hsu said. “There must have been an immense amount of pressure internally for him to have stepped down.” 

His resignation comes less than two weeks after he questioned the diversity at the University of Minnesota-Morris. 

The comments arose during Interim Chancellor Janet Schrunk Ericksen’s presentation about the MPact 2025 goal for Morris at the board’s October meeting. She discussed the campus’ declining enrollment numbers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In response to the low enrollment numbers, Sviggum said, “Is it possible that at Morris we’ve become too diverse?”

Sviggum stated he asked this question based on a letter and a phone call from parents concerned their children won’t be attending Morris because they would not feel comfortable due to the increased diversity. 

Since this meeting, numerous groups including the Morris Campus Student Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors group, have called on him to either resign from his vice chair position or from the board entirely. 

In a letter to the chair of the board, Ken Powell, Sviggum stated he realized he had to resign from his leadership position on the board after their meeting on Saturday. 

“I owe that position to my colleagues who have shown disapproval in my actions,” Sviggum said in the letter. “I do so humbly and thoughtfully, with knowledge that the success of the University of Minnesota is the most important focus and is much more important than any one person or position.” 

Regents James Farnsworth and Mike Kenynaya have denounced Sviggum’s comments, agreeing that his resignation is the right move. 

Regent Kenyanya released a statement last Thursday in response to Sviggum’s comments. 

“The problem with asking if Morris is “too diverse” is that it means you think the answer could be yes,” Kenyanya said in his statement. “It implies that while we might welcome Black, Asian, Latino, or Native American students, there can only be so many.” 

Kenyanya also shared in his statement that after a brief correspondence with Sviggum, it made it “abundantly clear” to him that Sviggum had not changed his initial position. 

In an email sent to the whole board last Thursday, Sviggum said, “not to double down, and certainly not to back off from my apology of yesterday, but I think you should be aware of this email.” 

He attached an email from a parent he received that morning. In the message, the parent established their support for Sviggum. 

“You’re on the right track. Please don’t back down. We’re with you,” the parent said. 

In 2012, Sviggum stepped down from the board after other members questioned a possible conflict of interest between his position as a regent and his involvement in the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus. The state Legislature re-elected Sviggum to the board in 2017.