Patricia Simmons’ tenure on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents may not come close to matching that of John S. Pillsbury (1863-1901) or Pillsbury’s son-in-law Fred B. Snyder (1912-1951). But when Simmons steps down this spring, an intention she announced last week, she will have 15 years of board service to her credit, more than any other regent in recent decades.
But Simmons deserves thanks for more than durability. She’s been a leader on the 12-member board, one on whom other regents have relied for steady and sound judgment. She was board chair in 2007-09; in 2010-11, she headed the search committee that recruited the university’s current president, Eric Kaler.
A retired Mayo Clinic physician from Rochester, Simmons, 67, has also brought a familiarity with medical education and health care delivery that’s needed on a board that oversees the state’s largest medical school and a major clinical practice. She occupies a First Congressional District seat that by tradition has been “the Mayo seat,” occupied for 49 years by either William or Charles W. Mayo. That tradition has paid off in mutually beneficial medical partnership ventures between Mayo and the university.
It was the possibility that the Board of Regents would include no one with medical expertise that caused Simmons to rethink her plan to step down from the board in 2015. Retired Mayo doctor Claire Bender had announced a candidacy for the seat that year, but withdrew. “We need that knowledge base in the board,” Simmons said about her decision to seek a rare third term. “I couldn’t leave the state without that.”
She believes she can exit now without creating that expertise void, she said last week. Another Mayo candidate is said to be in the wings, though his or her name has not been revealed, nor has Simmons’ departure date. But it’s likely to be soon. Simmons wants to act while the Legislature is in session to give lawmakers a chance to elect someone this year to complete her six-year term. That would afford more stability to the board than would a gubernatorial appointment in 2018 and an election in 2019, she said. Once again — and to her credit — she is making the board’s needs her priority.