The Star Tribune Editorial Board, in “Value careful vetting in picking U regents” (April 19), restated its preference for sustaining the controversial Regent Candidate Advisory Council’s (RCAC) role in vetting prospective members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. To support its dim view of the Legislature’s ability to elect regents, the board tried its hand at character assassination at my expense.
The shade thrown my way is no coincidence. Data-practices requests for a three-year-old investigation into my employment history were made by both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press the day after I testified against the RCAC at the Legislature. Bills in both the House and the Senate to restore direct regent selection by the Legislature passed with bipartisan support. For those who have controlled the RCAC process for decades, the stakes are apparently high enough that attempting to destroy someone’s reputation seems warranted, even if the facts do not cooperate.
I’m proud of my time at McNally Smith College of Music. I accepted a one-year contract between deployment notices from the Minnesota National Guard. Our team at McNally Smith made remarkable progress, and we met our goals. As my contract was ending, the college hired a new president who expressed a desire to reconfigure the administration. The college provided great support as I transitioned back to my law practice and prepared for deployment to Iraq, and I remained a contractor with the school. I was never informed of any claim of impropriety, nor would any claim have been founded.
The regent application I completed nearly a decade later contained three spots for current and past employment. I entered my then-current position with a medical clinic, my National Guard position and my law office. The editorial criticized the omission of my time at McNally Smith on the application. It would have been listed had there been five or perhaps six work spots.
If the regent application had provided enough entries to include McNally Smith, what would the RCAC have discovered? As shown by a three-month university investigation that included dozens of co-workers and students, the RCAC would have found a productive year with no allegations of misconduct. The suggestion that I hid something by following the application’s instructions is contemptible.
So, what is the basis for the ad hominem assault? It’s a last-ditch effort by those wishing to retain control over regent selection.
Some claim citizen input will be lost if the RCAC experiment ends. Yet Minnesotans always had input into regent selection, and the public would have even more input after the RCAC. What would be lost is the ability of a small number of people, unvetted and not known to most Minnesotans, to limit whom legislators may consider as regents.
Under the RCAC, the Board of Regents has been without important voices. Labor and agriculture have not been well-represented, often not at all. Gender and racial diversity have been disappointing. When incumbent regents have sought re-election, the RCAC has disproportionately blocked women and people of color.
Has the lack of diverse viewpoints affected the university? Well, during the RCAC era, administrative costs and resident tuition have increased exponentially while access for Minnesota students has dropped.
The problem goes beyond that. The ties between influential RCAC members and the university’s administration are undeniable and yet not disclosed to the Legislature when the RCAC exerts influence over regent selection. Over time, this has resulted in many viewing the regents as working for the administration rather than representing the people they were elected to serve.
By contrast, I believe the regents hire, oversee and require accountability from the president and administration.
For this belief, board leadership and the administration directed an unprecedented, unauthorized investigation of a sitting regent under the auspices of an anonymous claim. Rather than confirming any firsthand knowledge of purported misconduct, the university launched into an exhaustive fishing expedition at significant public expense into an apparent rumor alleged to exist eight years before I was elected.
While I cooperated fully to avoid the very innuendo employed by the Star Tribune Editorial Board, I made clear I would not be intimidated and would continue to pursue transparency and accountability as long as I serve. I sincerely hope the Legislature directly elects more regents so committed.
Darrin Rosha, of Independence, is a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.