The University of Minnesota has its newest regent.
Thomas Devine, an insurance executive and longtime university volunteer from Chanhassen, was selected on Wednesday by a joint session of the Legislature to fill the seat vacated last month by former House Speaker Steve Sviggum.
"Higher education here in Minnesota is really, truly a valuable resource," said Devine, who has campaigned for a seat on the board since 2010. "It's the backbone of Minnesota. It's what separates Minnesota from a number of other states."
The joint House-Senate body selected Devine by a vote of 110-75 over Robert Vogel, a bank president from Elko New Market. Vogel was the choice of a Senate selection committee, mainly because he actually lives in the Second Congressional District, an area that the vacant seat on the board represents. Redistricting just drew Devine out of the district, but he said he'll be on the board to represent "all Minnesotans."
"I will continue to represent the interests of the Second Congressional District," he said. "After I take my oath of office, I become a representative of the state of Minnesota, and that first and foremost will be the responsibility of a regent, and I intend to follow that."
With one son who's a freshman at the U and another who is a high school senior still trying to pick a college, Devine said he brings a parent's perspective to the board. In particular, he said, he's interested in issues like the cost and availability of student housing and the rising cost of tuition. He also pledged to work closely with legislators, particularly now that the university is striving for more money in this year's bonding bill.
Devine's selection closes a contentious chapter for the regents. When former regent Sviggum accepted a position as spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus, critics questioned whether it was a conflict of interest for a regent to also work with the politicians who set the university's budget and policies. After Sviggum resigned last month, the Senate's bonding bill reduced funding for the U of M system while increasing its proposed spending for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Sviggum said there was no political payback at work in the bonding bill.
"I think we've heard the messaging very clearly from a number of legislators here," Devine said, pointing to the university's concerns about funding for the U in the bonding bill. "Certainly we've listened to a lot of concerns about salary packages and administrative costs and some of those things. I look forward to finding information and sharing that with the board."
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049