Former University of Minnesota regent David McMillan will become the temporary leader of the Duluth campus, following a majority vote by the U's Board of Regents on Wednesday.

The board voted 9-2 to appoint him, after a lengthy, often aggrieved discussion that addressed conflict of interest concerns raised recently by regent Darrin Rosha, former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and a national higher education accountability nonprofit.

The board approved a two-year contract for McMillan that offers a base salary of $250,000 each year, along with $25,000 annually for housing. Retiring UMD Chancellor Lendley Black's base salary this past year was about $316,000.

McMillan, who as regent represented Duluth and the surrounding region since 2011, resigned to apply to become UMD's interim chancellor after a $166,000 national search failed to produce a permanent choice.

A retired Minnesota Power executive and UMD graduate, McMillan was among six applicants for the interim post and the only one selected for an interview by the 18-member search committee. He said he was encouraged to apply by Duluth-based civic, business and higher education leaders.

But Rosha and Carlson have said both searches lacked transparency, and McMillan's role in approving U President Joan Gabel's recent contract increase lent the appearance of a conflict. Gabel recused herself from the interim chancellor decision and both she and McMillan have denied the allegation.

Nearly 40 Minnesota legislators signed a letter sent to the Board of Regents this week laying out similar concerns, asking the board to reject the McMillan recommendation and give a second look to the other candidates.

"We implore you to hold yourselves to the highest moral and ethical standards, avoiding what appears to be a significant and serious conflict of interest," reads the letter, signed at the top by House Minority Higher Education Lead Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, and Senate President David Osmek, R-Mound.

On Wednesday, before leaving the regent's meeting room at McNamara Alumni Center, Gabel read a statement that said the initial search failed because it didn't result in "the right candidate."

Calling the allegations "hurtful," she said she didn't promise anyone a job or ask anyone to be nominated or apply for the interim role.

"There has been no quid pro quo," she said, referring to the phrase publicly used by Carlson. "While some may not agree with my vision or my decisions … I have always acted in the university's best interest."

On Wednesday, Rosha attempted to first postpone the vote and then amend the contract to an initial six months, followed by month-to-month approval. A postponement would allow a legal review, he said, and the contract amendment would allow for a leadership change if necessary. Both measures failed.

Along with Rosha, Regent James Farnsworth opposed hiring McMillan. "This is not personal," he said. "I feel really uncomfortable with the issues that have been raised … and maintaining public trust."

Most of the nine regents in favor of appointing McMillan shared why they believed him qualified and defended his character, some criticizing Rosha for making allegations publicly.

Regent Chair Ken Powell told members to "vote your conscience."

"Speculating publicly about a supposedly pre-meditated scheme behind two events — a contract vote and then a later failed search — is reckless," Powell said. "There is zero evidence these events are connected."

Mike Kenyanya, a UMD graduate who holds the At Large student seat, said the move from regent to campus leader might be unusual, but it doesn't mean it's "inherently wrong."

In Duluth, many are in favor of McMillan's appointment.

He is considered "a good communicator," who has earned the respect of many on the UMD campus, said UMD faculty union president John Schwetman.

"We felt like he was often making good cases for resources going to the Duluth campus," he said.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson tweeted earlier this week the recommendation of McMillan was "great news."

"Dave is a great person and unyielding champion who would serve us and our university community well," she wrote.

Also Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz appointed Tadd Johnson as McMillan's replacement on the Board of Regents — the first Native American named to the board. A Bois Forte Band of Chippewa citizen, Johnson recently retired from the U after serving as senior director of American Indian Tribal Nations Relations and director of graduate studies for UMD's American Indian Studies department. He has also served as a tribal court judge and as chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission.