Lawmakers re-elected two incumbents to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents on Wednesday, despite concerns about university costs. Regent Dean Johnson handily won a second term, while Linda Cohen, board chair, had a tighter race.
A joint House-Senate session also appointed two new faces to the 12-member governing board. Peggy Lucas, founding partner of Brighton Development Corp. and a longtime U donor and volunteer, will represent the Fifth Congressional District. Abdul Omari, a doctoral student and former student representative to the board, will take the student seat. Regents serve six-year, unpaid terms.
Johnson said his 28 years of building relationships as a legislator aided his campaign. But he and Cohen fielded difficult questions from lawmakers about the U's budget, he said.
The U has been under political fire this session over its administrative costs, a perennial issue that gained new steam when the Wall Street Journal used the university as an example of administrative bloat, a contention U President Eric Kaler has said lacked good data and proper context.
Next week, the university will present to lawmakers a workforce analysis that legislative leaders requested earlier this session. Johnson predicted it would be "a good report."
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, did not vote for either incumbent, afterward citing administrative costs and Star Tribune reporting last year on paid leaves that ex-U President Robert Bruininks awarded top administrators. "Given all that has happened in the last year or so ... management needs to change," she said. "We have a new president, but I think he needs a strong, interactive board in order to make the changes that are necessary."
Lawmakers clearly want "to ensure that we lower tuition for in-state students and be as efficient as possible with taxpayer dollars," Omari said Wednesday night by e-mail. The doctoral student in comparative and international development education said his top priority is for the U to fulfill its land-grant mission, including having affordable tuition and "ensuring access to in-state students."
Cohen got 109 votes Wednesday, while her challenger, Ertugrul Tuzcu, got 84. Johnson won with 153 votes. Both are at-large seats.
The joint convention passed the same slate of candidates recommended to them by a House and Senate joint higher education committee last week. The full Legislature was not bound by those picks.
Republicans in 2011 elected two ex-colleagues to the board — former Rep. Laura Brod and former House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who resigned in March 2012 from the board over conflict-of-interest concerns about his job with state Senate Republicans. Sviggum was replaced by Thomas Devine, principal of the David Agency, an insurance agency in Edina.