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Jeffrey Ettinger selected as interim UMN president

At a special meeting on Monday, the University Board of Regents choose an interim president out of the four finalists.
Image by Photo by Maya Marchel-Hoff
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents Feb. 10, 2023 at the McNamara Alumni Center.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents selected Jeffrey Ettinger Monday evening in a special meeting to be the University’s interim president.

The decision came after current President Joan Gabel announced her resignation on April 3 after accepting the chancellor position at the University of Pittsburgh. The board interviewed four candidates for the interim president position and Ettinger was chosen as the new interim president with 10 yes, one no and one abstention. 

Regent Robyn Gulley, who was recently elected to the board, voted no and Regent Kodi Verhalen abstained.

“I want to thank all four finalists for their participation in this process,” board Chair Janie Mayeron said. “I think each of us [regents] can say unequivocally that all four finalists are extremely talented.” 

Jeffrey Ettinger

Ettinger is currently the Hormel Foundation’s board chair, but he previously served as the CEO for Hormel Foods Corporation from 2005 to 2016. 

Following his departure from Hormel, Ettinger ran for Minnesota’s First Congressional District but was defeated by Republican candidate Brad Finstad.

Ettinger also works as an executive fellow at the University’s Carlson School of Management and has family ties to the University, including a child who graduated in 2020.

Ettinger told regents in his interview that working for Hormel, which had a $9 billion budget and more than 20,000 employees, will help him succeed as interim president because of the University’s similarities in scope. 

“I would love to have a chance to be of service to the U,” Ettinger said. “I think the interim president role clearly is a bridge role, and I think I could bring some skills and talent to that bridge role.”

He added he hopes to be an “agent of continuity and progress” toward the University’s MPact 2025 goals and to reset the University’s relationship with the public.

“I think the public does not fully understand all the great things that are going on at the University, and I’m certainly prepared to be a proponent of telling that story as often as possible,” Ettinger said. “I would offer that I think that would be easier for a person who is outside of the current University environment to do.”

In the board’s deliberations, many regents said they believe the University could benefit from bringing in an outside candidate who could deliver a new perspective, while also praising Ettinger’s leadership experience.

“I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and learn a lot about how to address student issues, which Jeff Ettinger has done in a big way in the community,” Regent Mary Davenport said. “We’re ready for a very different point of view that embraces the mission, yet brings us something fresh and different that we can build on and have some insight into ourselves as we move into the permanent presidency phase.”

Nine of the 12 regents ranked Ettinger as their first or second choice to serve as interim president. Some regents, including Mayeron, expressed interest in choosing an external candidate to allow the two internal candidates to continue “excellent” work in their current positions.

“There are stakeholders who specifically and purposefully want what we’ve characterized as an outside look,” Regent Mike Kenyanya said. “If we were to consider getting that outside perspective, for me it would have to be in that short, defined one year period.”

The other finalists 

As senior vice president of finance and operations, Myron Frans is the University’s chief financial officer, operations officer and treasurer. 

Frans was the commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget from 2015 to 2019 prior to working at the University. He also served as commissioner of revenue from 2011 to 2015. 

He has been a private practice tax attorney for 27 years, most recently at Faegre Drinker in Minneapolis. 

Mary Holz-Clause is the current chancellor of the University of Minnesota – Crookston. 

From 2014 to 2017, Holz-Clause was also the dean of agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona in California. In 2011, she was the vice president for economic development at the University of Connecticut and served there for three years. 

She has secured more than $40 million in grant funding for emerging and ongoing initiatives. 

“Those two candidates, Mary Holz-Clause and Myron Frans … are doing exceptional work in an exceptional way for the University right now,” Regent Penny Wheeler said.

Thomas Sullivan, the president emeritus and professor of law and political science at the University of Vermont, has 30 years of experience in academia. 

From 2004 to 2012, he served as the former provost and senior vice president at the University. Before that he was the associate dean at Washington University in St. Louis and the dean for the University of Arizona law school. 

Before serving as dean, Sullivan was a trial attorney at Donovan, Leisure, Newton and Irvine. He has written 13 books and 75 articles and essays.

“Our board was impressed by the number and quality of candidates who expressed interest in the interim president position,” Mayeron said in a system-wide email sent out Monday. “Jeff emerged from that impressive group and we believe the experience and skills that stood out will make for an effective interim leader of our University.” 

Ettinger will begin his one-year presidency at the University on July 1.

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