A thorough vetting of candidates for this state’s most important public governing board — the University of Minnesota Board of Regents — should occur before the Legislature elects its members, not afterward. And that vetting should be taken seriously by legislators.
The importance of that process is underscored by recent reports about regent Darrin Rosha’s return to the board in 2015, after serving a stint as a student regent from 1989 to 1995. The Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC), the panel charged with recruiting, reviewing and recommending potential regents to the Legislature, declined to recommend Rosha. It did not disclose its reasons; it is under no obligation to do so. Despite the lack of support from the RCAC, the Legislature elected Rosha to the unexpired term of regent David Larson, who died in 2014.
Just months later, the university launched an investigation of an anonymous claim that Rosha had been terminated as dean of students at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul almost a decade earlier because he had sent sexually explicit text messages to a female student and was an unwelcome guest at her music performances. The three-month investigation cost the university $43,000 —$9,000 of which reimbursed Rosha for his own legal fees, an unusual move. Insufficient evidence was found to support the charges. Investigators failed to get the cooperation of officials at McNally Smith, which is no longer in operation.
Rosha, who served at McNally Smith in 2006-07, told an editorial writer that he left that post involuntarily but said the accusations about misconduct are baseless. His departure was the result of administrative restructuring, he said. He also said he was not trying to hide his service at the music college, even though he failed to mention it on either his RCAC application or, during his first two years as a regent, on the regents’ website.
That omission is troubling. It may have handicapped the RCAC’s vetting. The university’s Rosha investigation came to light because of public records requests from news organizations, including the Star Tribune. It’s not clear from those records or from RCAC’s public reports whether RCAC members knew about his McNally Smith employment history either in 2015 or two years later, when Rosha was elected to a full, six-year term in his own right — this time with the RCAC’s recommendation.
The questions that linger in the Rosha matter are not our focus, however. Of greater concern is the adequacy of the recruitment and vetting of regent candidates in the future. Make that the immediate future: Regent Patricia Simmons’ resignation has triggered a selection process at the Legislature that does not involve the RCAC. Applications for the opening were due Monday. A joint legislative higher education committee intends to screen the applicants — during the busiest weeks of the legislative session — and recommend a nominee to the full Legislature before the constitutionally mandated May 21 adjournment.
The timing of this vacancy allows the Legislature to proceed without the RCAC’s input. That would become the new norm for the selection of regents under a bill advancing through committees at the Legislature. It would disband the RCAC, leaving legislators with the sole responsibility to recruit and review the applications of potential regents.
That’s the system that prevailed before concern about an overly politicized Board of Regents led to the RCAC’s creation in 1988. We see little reason to think that those same concerns would not arise anew if the RCAC disappears. Rather than disbanding this useful panel, legislators should take better advantage of it. They should appoint citizens of stature and seasoning to serve on the RCAC, ensure that the panel is staffed sufficiently to thoroughly screen applicants — and then give weight to its advice.