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Legislative committee recommends UMN regent candidates

The regent nomination joint committee voted on candidate recommendations for four open positions on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents Wednesday night.
Image by CJ Bonk
The Minnesota State Capitol Building on Saturday, Jan. 28.

The regent nomination joint committee at the Minnesota Legislature voted on University of Minnesota Board of Regents candidates to recommend to members in the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

In the committee’s meeting at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday night, members voted to advance Robyn Gulley, Mary Turner, Regent Tadd Johnson and Penny Wheeler to the joint legislative session, where policymakers from both chambers will vote on regent candidates later this spring.   

The Legislature elected members of the 12-person board through a multi-month process, which includes an interview process through the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC), a vote in the joint committee and a joint session vote. 

This year, four seats are up for election, Congressional Districts 2, 3, 8 and an at-large seat.

The RCAC, which screens and recommends initial board candidates, recommended 12 applicants to the joint committee in January.  

District 2

District 2 candidates included Gulley, a West St. Paul City Council member, and Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins. The committee, which consists of members of the House and Senate, selected Gulley in a 13-6 vote. 

During the pre-vote questions, Atkins urged the committee to vote for Gulley and highlighted the importance of increasing diversity on the board. 

“I have had an opportunity to go to numerous forums with my opponent, Robyn Gulley, and have listened to her responses…I’m gonna tell you something that will probably surprise you — I think you should appoint her,” Atkins said at the meeting. “If you were to ask me who I would vote for if I were sitting on your side of the table, I’d tell you to vote for Robyn.”  

At the meeting, Gulley outlined her goals for the University system and explained how her history with the University has equipped her with institutional knowledge. 

“I have a long history with the University of Minnesota, so this process has been a labor of love for me,” Gulley said. “Through my time with the University, I’ve seen the best that it has to offer…I’ve also observed the ways the University could grow and be better at serving Minnesotans.” 

District 3

In the vote for the District 3 seat, candidates included William Humphries, a Minnesota Five Guys and Crisp & Green franchise owner, and former U.S. Representative for Minnesota Bill Luther. Wheeler, the former CEO of Allina Health, and Turner, the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, were also candidates for the district. 

The committee voted for Turner in a second round vote between her and Humphries, resulting in a 13-6 vote. 

“I live for the opportunity to serve not only the students, not only the workers, but the people of Minnesota,” Turner said. “I’ve stood with patients and communities as they have fought for their hospitals…and this is what I love to do.”  

District 8

District 8 candidates included current board member Johnson and Susan Cohen, the president of the Center for Regulatory Research. The committee unanimously voted for Johnson. 

“Regents should be servant leaders…As a former professor, I had a front row seat to the struggles that students face,” Johnson said at the meeting. “Their needs versus the needs of the administration must be our highest priority in every decision we make.” 


Candidates for the at-large seat included Val Aarsvold, the executive director of Minnesota Future Farmers of America, and former University men’s gymnastics head coach Mike Burns. Other candidates included the University’s Undergraduate Student Body President, Flora Yang, and Rebecca Siekmeier, the former director of the SciTech Internship Program at the Minnesota Technology Association. 

Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center) nominated Wheeler for the at-large seat before the candidate presentations began. 

“I think there’s one candidate who has stood out, and I think she has proven herself to be a good leader and can take the U of M to where we would like to go,” Vang said at the meeting. “I would like to nominate Penny Wheeler.” 

The committee selected Wheeler in a second round vote between her and Aarsvold, winning the vote 13-6. 

“I know it’s a meaningful role, I have a love for the land grant history of the University and its mission to serve all,” Wheeler said at the meeting. “I will promise to use my passion and experience to serve the students, this incredible institution and the state with all I have.” 

Although the committee’s recommendations will be presented to legislators at the joint session later this spring, policymakers can introduce alternative candidates on the chamber floor before the vote.

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