Every 10 years or so, the Legislature takes a run at the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC). And largely, it fails. That is because the system for selecting regents for the University of Minnesota, though flawed, is as reasonable and responsible as human interference will allow.
Years ago, I chaired the RCAC, and I have observed it both before and since. It was created in 1989 by a blue-ribbon panel led by Kenneth Dayton, Neil Sherburne, Tom Swain and Elmer Andersen, with the active support of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA). The impetus was to prevent governors from appointing cronies to the Board of Regents, following the Ken Keller/Eastcliff scandal of 1986.
Now some legislators want to claim more power for themselves, to prevent the exercise of “political influence.” Seriously? Pardon me, but that rationale is simply risible.
The best way to ensure that regents are the most qualified and best-suited people for this awesome responsibility is to recruit, recruit and then recruit some more. Only by ensuring that the RCAC has excellent candidates to select from can we be certain the ultimate choices also will be excellent. Recruiting is a responsibility we all share, because the U belongs to all of us. Whom do you know who should be encouraged to apply?
If legislators feel that they could do a better job than the RCAC, that must mean they think they have superior skills at persuading good candidates to come forward. If they were to put those same skills to work recruiting candidates to apply through the existing RCAC process, that same fine cream should rise to the top, thereby ensuring that the process is insulated from their own or others’ “political influence.” Everybody wins, especially the U.
Farming out the selection process to the legislators in each congressional district, as is being proposed, would only cement the meddling that already exists. Legislators now make recommendations for regent by congressional districts, and giving them the power to actually select the regents would only increase the amount of political influence in the system.
Some have critiqued the RCAC: “…[Y]ou’re not talking about qualifications, you’re actually talking about preference, which is not RCAC’s role,” one critic said. But the reality is that RCAC members check the background of candidates before they decide whom to interview. They know about past and present service, and the experience, leadership and collegiality qualities of those who have served on the Board of Regents, as well as other volunteer board service.
The Star Tribune’s article did not include opposing views, such as those of the RCAC and the UMAA, nor did it mention any attempts to contact such sources. I hope to see a follow-up article that includes such reporting. It would also be helpful to approach those who have offered bills to “fix” or eliminate the RCAC and ask them exactly how and why their plan would improve the process and the outcomes. It’s one thing to introduce a bill, quite another to justify it.
If I sound protective of the RCAC and the applicants who submit their own names for consideration — and you can only apply on your own behalf, you cannot be nominated — I surely am. These fine people are volunteering to put in an average of 40 hours per month on our behalf, for no pay whatsoever. Most could serve on other boards, ones that would not tax their schedules and would pay them handsomely. They care about the university and our state, and that is their primary motivation; in fact, that is one of the characteristics RCAC members see most often in these applicants.
Yes, it’s a prestigious position, but the honor pales in comparison to the long hours, and their abiding love of the university sustains them.
Every time the Legislature goes after the RCAC, it discourages good candidates from wanting to become ensnared in such a divisive, tawdry process. The kind of applicants the university needs are accomplished, experienced leaders in their fields, and they all receive multiple requests for their time and attention. If we want them to apply for this daunting process, we must make it more welcoming and less demeaning.
Lawmakers could improve the situation by keeping their hands off the process, and by recruiting the best candidates they know.
Mary McLeod lives in St. Paul.