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Be a Regent, get beating

Posted by: $author Updated: January 9, 2009 - 4:44 PM
      I am always amazed when I see people of intellectual substance, with a life resume of unquestioned accomplishment, step forward to volunteer for a public position knowing with a certainty that they are going to take a beating--mostly undeserved--from the taxpayers for accepting a public position of great importance.  From my seat in the back row of retirement, I am moved to believe that I could get them a cover on S&M Monthly, if such a publication existed.
    I was moved to these thoughts last week when the state’s Regent Candidate Advisory Council put forth its list of eight candidates for the four open seats on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.  This list will now be forwarded to a joint legislative committee of House and Senate member who will pick four names to be put before the full Legislature to be voted on to sit on the panel that hold ultimate authority for governance of this state’s largest university.
    The Board of Regents is nominated from each of the state’s eight congressional districts.  In addition, there are four at-large members, one of whom must be a student from the University, comprising the full board.  This year there were no statewide (at-large) vacancies on the board.  
While there are those that insist that politics does not enter into the selection process, I will assure you that the public believes that there are few things that take place under the dome with the golden horses that aren’t touched in some way be politics.
    Within minutes of the posting of the news story by Jenna Ross on startribune.com, three reader responses were posted all suggesting, directly or indirectly, that these appointments had a political taint.  One post said “The headline should read: Rubber Stamp Finalists for Board of Regents Approved.” Another stated that Board of Regent appointments “tended to skew DFL.”  The third asked, “So…what is the compensation for this position?”
    That is what I meant when I wondered why people with a history of personal and professional achievement would ever want to put themselves in a position of voluntarily having their life’s contributions to society trashed by anonymous individuals.  Running the University of Minnesota is a big deal; it’s not just deciding whether to sell beer at sporting events or whether to pay million-dollar salaries to football coaches who can’t win bowl games.  It is hard work and an enormous responsibility to meet the educational needs of an entire state of people trying to better themselves or their children in a crushing economic downturn.
    I don’t know all of those, whose names have been put forward, but I know the public work of at least three and I would guess that they are a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent.  Their individual backgrounds seem to make my point:  Why would one of these people who have achieved such heights of accomplishment in their lives want to tarnish the memory of their enormous personal contributions by undertaking a position with a virtual guarantee of harsh public criticism.
    Consider the three people on this list of recommendations whose work I know personally:  Clyde Allen, Jr., Kathryn Roberts, and Anita Pampusch.  Allen is currently vice chair of the Board of Regents, a former Commissioner of Revenue and once was the director of research for the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, a group I am never going to agree with.  Kathryn Roberts, ran the Minnesota Zoo for ten years moving it from the brink of disaster to a position of international renown before she became the CEO of Ecumen and dedicated her skills to making life better for Minnesota’s senior citizens, of which I am one.  Anita Pampusch has the most direct skills for helping to guide an institution of higher education into an unknown future because she has done it before.  As the former president of the College of St. Catherine, her vision helped maintain and grow one of the few private women’s colleges in this country.  She recently retired as the head of the Busch Foundation, Minnesota’ second largest foundation.
    I know of nothing to make me believe that the others recommended by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council are not of similar background and noteworthy public service accomplishments.  And, while I am enormously grateful that people of such prodigious achievement are willing to give of themselves to be of counsel to my University, it still makes me marvel, and I applaud their enthusiasm to continue to serve us, their neighbors tirelessly.
By the way:  Being a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents does not pay anything but it does consume the time of about two fulltime positions in the executive job market.
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