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Lawmakers asked tough questions of the two incumbents but, in the end, nominated them for another six-year term as University of Minnesota regents.
Late Tuesday night, a House and Senate joint committee picked candidates for the four open seats on the 12-member Board of Regents:
For at-large: incumbents Linda Cohen, chair of the board, and Dean Johnson, a former legislator himself.
For the student spot: Abdul Omari, a doctoral student and former student representative to the board.
For the Fifth Congressional District: Peggy Lucas, founding partner of Brighton Development Corp., got the nod after several rounds of voting.
Finalists were quizzed about students’ growing debt and cutting costs. The candidates stressed their concern about rising tuition and their will to whittle administrative spending.
Lucas called media coverage critical of the University of Minnesota’s administrative costs “an opportunity to look closely at how the university operates.” U President Eric Kaler’s explanation of the numbers makes sense, she added, “but I think we need to look deeper than that.”
Cohen told the group that “the board and the president realize and understand that we want to be accountable for every dollar — for tuition dollars, for taxpayer dollars, for philanthropic dollars.”
The full Legislature will consider — but is not bound by — the nominations when making final selections next week.
The joint House and Senate higher education committees picked the four finalists from nine recommended by the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, a citizen group that screens and interviews candidates for the unpaid spots on the U’s governing board.
The process of electing regents is known for its maneuvering, and several lawmakers noted Tuesday that nothing is certain until the Legislature weighs in. “It isn’t over until the joint convention meets on the floor,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski said.