A special joint House-Senate committee is scheduled Tuesday night to start work on one of the Legislature’s most important biennial duties — electing members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. That’s the 12-member board that charts the direction and oversees the operation of the public institution that arguably does more than any other to shape Minnesota’s future.
Four seats need filling, one at-large position plus seats designated for representatives of the Second, Third and Eighth congressional districts. Tuesday’s joint meeting of the Legislature’s higher education committees will recommend a slate to the full Legislature, which will complete the election at a joint convention later this month (it is as yet unscheduled).
Twelve candidates have been recommended to the Legislature by an advisory panel established 30 years ago, the Regent Candidate Advisory Council. The Star Tribune Editorial Board has not screened those 12 candidates individually, so we will not offer specific endorsements for the four seats. But we’re not reticent about sharing several observations about the university’s governance needs and various candidates’ potential to meet them. To wit:
• Corporate leadership experience is helpful. The mutual dependence of Minnesota’s top corporations and its top provider of brainpower and knowledge augurs substantial business representation on the board. The more experience regents bring in leading large, complex, global, research- and talent-driven enterprises, the better.
It’s been rare in recent years for CEOs and chairs of corporate boards to be willing to make a six-year commitment to a position that demands 30 to 40 hours per month without pay. That’s why we are delighted to see Ken Powell, chair and CEO of General Mills, among this year’s at-large candidates, and applaud the willingness of David McMillan, executive vice president of Minnesota Power, to seek a second term representing the Eighth District.
Legislators should know that other top business leaders are watching the fate of these candidates and will decide whether to offer their own service accordingly.
• Diversity matters. Minnesota is facing a skilled labor shortage that can be eased by making the U a magnet for talent of both genders and all races. A diverse Board of Regents is an asset to that effort. The current board includes three members of racial minorities and four women, one of whom is stepping down in June.
It’s regrettable that all of the 12 recommended candidates are white and only two are women. Fortunately, both of the female candidates possess solid credentials. Tammy Lee Stanoch in the Third District is chief corporate affairs officer for a biotech company and has 20 years of corporate and civic experience. Sandra Krebsbach of the Second District is the former mayor of Mendota Heights with a long record of civic leadership and a career in higher education administration.
• Regents should govern, not micromanage. We cringed in late December at word that two regents — Michael Hsu and Darrin Rosha, who is seeking a second term — met with football team members who were planning a boycott of a bowl game. We winced at the outspoken criticism of the firing of football coach Tracy Claeys and the management of U athletics by Second District regents’ candidate Jim Carter, as recently as Jan. 29 on WCCO Radio.
We’re also bothered by Carter telling the advisory council that he respects the service of just two regents and that a number of other board members “are not working hard at it.”
Those words and deeds undercut the authority of the administrators that the board hires and holds accountable to manage the university. Comments like Carter’s also would undermine the board’s ability to achieve consensus and speak publicly with a united voice. That’s no small matter, especially when the time arrives for the board to perform its number one duty: hiring a new president.
We’re also troubled by Carter’s handling of revelations about a 1976 sexual misconduct incident while he played for the Green Bay Packers. Carter should have anticipated that the incident would be remembered and disclosed it himself early in the regents’ selection process. Instead, when it came to light, he accused U President Eric Kaler and his administration of waging a smear campaign against him with no evidence to support that allegation. No regent should make such an inflammatory charge without solid evidence in hand.
• Respect the selection process. Legislators are not confined by the recommendations of the advisory council. They are free to present additional candidates for consideration. But that council exists because previous legislators were too casual — and too partisan — when filling regents’ seats. The council is a distinguished body that spends many hours meeting and evaluating prospective regents. Its work deserves legislators’ respect.
We’re not naive enough to ask legislators to ignore politics as they evaluate regent candidates. But they will do this state a disservice if party affiliation is their top selection criterion. The colors they should aim to show as they pick regents aren’t partisan red and blue, but Gopher maroon and gold.