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Regents review Cunningham’s contract, provide update on campus safety

During their March meeting, the regents also heard from their student representatives about on-campus student issues.
Image by CJ Bonk
Dr. Rebecca Cunningham at a press conference following a Board of Regents meeting announcing her selection. The regents discussed Friday climate action during the Meeting on March 7 and heard from a student group that requested to speak.

Editor’s Note: The Board of Regents also heard from UMPD for its updates on public safety and 2024 initiatives. A separate story can be found here.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents met on March 7 for their first regular session meeting since the conclusion of the presidential search.

During the meeting, the regents voted to approve a five-year contract for the new University president, Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, who was appointed to the role at the special Board meeting on Feb. 26.

The Board also received an update on public safety around campus for the spring semester and heard from two of their student representatives about current issues students are facing.

Cunningham’s contract

The Regents voted unanimously to approve future President Cunningham’s contract, which will take effect July 1 and last until the end of June 2029.

Cunningham was not in attendance at the Board meeting Friday.

Before Cunningham fully assumes her new role, she will be working closely with interim President Jeff Ettinger for the transition process.

According to the contract, the Board will review and evaluate Cunningham’s performance annually and will continually discuss her ongoing goals and accomplishments with her.

“Board leadership has worked closely with our general counsel to prepare this agreement,” Board Chair Janie Mayeron said. “It is a market competitive agreement that speaks to Dr. Cunningham’s skill and experience.”

Cunningham’s starting salary will be $975,000 annually. This is a 52% increase from former President Joan Gabel’s base salary of $640,000. Including salary, bonuses and retirement funds, Gabel’s yearly compensation was more than $1 million by the time she left in 2023.

Mayeron said Cunningham’s base salary places her in the 50th percentile of her Big Ten peers. She added there is a new provision in the contract, which would prohibit Cunningham from accepting any paid positions at outside public or private institutions during her presidency.

“It is a very significant commitment, both for us to have a new president and for the new president to come [to the University],” Regent Robyn Gulley said. “I sometimes struggle with these very expensive employment agreements, so I appreciate the work folks did to get this right.”

Students for Climate Justice

The Board heard brief remarks from Students for Climate Justice on why they believe the University needs a comprehensive zero-waste plan.

Currently, non-recycled and non-composted trash from the University is sent to the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, which Students for Climate Justice member Gracelyn McClure said contributes to the highest asthma rates in the state.

The University’s facilities website states a long-term goal is to keep 90% of waste out of the trash, but McClure said there is no current plan or timeline for this goal.

“We urge the University of Minnesota to develop a zero waste plan with the active involvement of relevant department leaders, workers, students and community members at every step of the process,” said Students for Climate Justice member Maia Bowman.

Student representatives deliver their report to the Board

Flora Yang, chair of student representatives to the Board of Regents from the Twin Cities campus, recommended an assessment of systemwide basic student needs and to implement them into long-term strategic planning.

“We want to acknowledge each campus is different,” Yang said. “However, there are still gaps to be identified, acknowledged and addressed.”

Hal Johnson, the student representative vice chair from the Morris campus, said another issue troubling students systemwide is mental health. They recommended solidifying practices outlined in the President’s Initiative for Student Mental Health (PRISMH) after MPact 2025 concludes activity next year.

Johnson also recommended fostering a greater sense of student belonging across all five University campuses.

“We cannot rely solely on the metrics of the Twin Cities to determine whether we are meeting goals regarding a sense of belonging and community,” Johnson said.

Regents said they were impressed with the content of the report and the way it was presented. The materials mentioned in the 2024 report to the Board were made into a 15-minute video presentation, branching away from the audit style of previous years.

Regent Kodi Verhalen said it provided a great starting point for the Board to familiarize themselves with and work towards mending these student issues.

“You have to start somewhere,” Verhalen said. “We’ve started, now what’s the next step, and where do we take it and how do we carry it forward and [ensure] it’s not something that just falls off the plate because it was an MPact 2025 goal?”

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