Board of Regents approves union agreements, elects new vice chair

During the board’s December meeting, regents examined the University’s purchase of Gray’s, voted on President Joan Gabel’s service on a private board of directors and faced an interruption from Students for a Democratic Society.

The+Board+of+Regents+convene+for+their+September+meeting+at+the+McNamara+Alumni+Center+on+Thursday%2C+Sept.+9.

Liam Armstrong

The Board of Regents convene for their September meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Sept. 9.

by Maya Marchel Hoff

At the University of Minnesota Board of Regents’ December meeting, the board unanimously approved the collective bargaining agreements of four University unions nearly two months after the University wrapped up negotiations with three American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) as well as Teamsters Local 320.

“Thanks to both the unions and our administration team for a successful outcome in everything,” Chair Ken Powell said. “We’re very grateful.”

The agreement between the University and Teamsters Local 320 includes a 3% wage increase and establishes Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees. AFSCME union employees will receive a 3.85% wage increase, a minimum pay floor of $20 an hour and election leave for tribal elections.

Following the votes, Regent Steve Sviggum raised a question to presenters Ken Horstman, the vice president for Human Resources, and Senior Director of Employee and Labor Relations Mani Vang. Sviggum inquired about the total cost of making Juneteenth a paid employee holiday and expressed concern over the total cost and loss of productivity.

“It’s not something that comes free,” Sviggum said. “There is a loss of productivity at some point or another.”

Vice chair election
The regents voted to elect a new vice chair of the board to fill Sviggum’s vacancy after his resignation in October.

Regent Tadd Johnson nominated Regent Janie Mayeron for the position and Regent James Farnsworth nominated himself. In a 9-3 vote, Mayeron was elected to the position. Regents Darrin Rosha, Farnsworth and Sviggum voted for Farnsworth.

This election comes nearly two months after Sviggum resigned from the position after public condemnation over his comments questioning the diversity of the University of Minnesota-Morris campus.

When Farnsworth announced his candidacy for vice chair, he cited the importance of having diverse board leadership as the main reason for running.

“I decided to place my name into nomination because I believe diversity, generation, ethnicity, race, experience and other elements are important for the leadership of this board,” Farnsworth said.

A majority of regents expressed their support for Mayeron before the vote, listing her experience as a federal magistrate judge and other government experience as their reasons for electing her.

“My history in governance, attachment to the University and my skill set that I bring would allow me to be the kind of leader that the University deserves in this position,” Mayeron said. “I will do my very best to serve to the best of my ability.”

The regents also discussed how the board should approach the nature of the vacancy and their next steps toward further fostering diversity at the University.

“The reason why we are in this special election is really this question of diversity,” Regent Bo Thao-Urabe said. “It is important that we not use the moment to talk about tokenizing and creating a seat because we are in a difficult position. It is a time to double down on our commitment to diversity.”

President Gabel’s external position on board of directors
The regents discussed and voted on approving Gabel’s conflict management plan for her new position on the Securian Financial Board of Directors.

Securian Financial is an insurance and retirement management company that is currently in a six-year contract with the University, where they oversee employee life insurance and retirement plans. They approached Gabel to serve on their Board of Directors and she would receive an annual salary of $130,000.

The board approved a new contract for Gabel in December 2021, which included an increase in salary. Including bonuses and benefits, Gabel’s total compensation could reach more than $1 million by 2026.

The company provided the board with its conflict management plan, which outlines procedures they will take to address potential conflicts of interest that arise in Gabel’s positions on their board.

According to the board’s “Institutional Conflict of Interest Policy,” they have the authority to review plans that aim at addressing conflicts of interest involving the University’s president.

The regents voted 9-3 to approve the plan, sharing varied views on Gabel’s new position.

Regents, including Rosha, Farnsworth and Mike Kenyanya expressed discomfort with Gabel serving on this board due to the potential conflicts of interest.

“This appears to be a step back. Our job is to always act in the best interest of the University,” Rosha said. “This impacts the fiduciary duty that the position of the president has to the University of Minnesota and from that standpoint, I don’t believe any member of this board can vote in favor of this.”

Other regents were on board with Gabel’s new position, explaining it would be beneficial to the University in terms of community outreach and strengthening the president’s governing experience.

“There are a lot of opportunities for oversight and if at some point we feel like it’s not efficient or is inserting itself into her administrative duties, then we can revisit it and require her to resign her position on the board,” Regent Kodi Verhalen said.

SDS interruption
During President Joan Gabel’s report to the board, members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) interrupted her presentation. They outlined their concerns regarding the University’s support of abortion access on campus and called for the establishment of a campus reproductive rights advocacy center.

“President Gabel, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, you made a statement outlining the resources available on campus, but you have on the whole remained unresponsive to the demands of students on this issue,” an SDS member said.

Powell called a board recess during the interruption.

SDS members held signs reading “Abortion Access Now” and chanted “When reproductive rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” as they left the conference room.

Purchase of Gray’s
The board unanimously approved the purchase of the former Gray’s Drugstore property on the corner of 4th Street SE in Dinkytown.

The popular Dinkytown restaurant, Gray’s, announced its closure in July after reopening at the end of 2020. Built in 1902, the building has served as a prominent piece of historic Dinkytown for more than a century.

For $2.8 million, the University plans to purchase the property to lease to food service businesses in hopes of establishing more stakes in Dinkytown, taking a more active role in the University’s surrounding areas and continuing to address off-campus safety.

“A cornerstone of our interest is in ensuring that Dinkytown remains vibrant,” Gabel said. “That will positively contribute to our overall efforts of safety in the adjacent neighborhoods.”

Many regents expressed their enthusiasm about the University’s step toward integrating itself into Dinkytown.

“Something about the University is that there are not enough student-centered spaces,” Student Representative to the Board of Regents Sara Davis said. “Our student community has felt the loss of that space very deeply and having the chance for us to gather is really thrilling.”

The University will start work immediately after officially closing on the property.