State lawmakers aimed to create a more diverse governing body for the University of Minnesota as they replaced one-third of the Board of Regents on Thursday.
Legislators elected four new regents who will spend the next six years overseeing the university system. They will make decisions on issues ranging from tuition increases to educational programming and will guide incoming U President Joan Gabel, who takes office July 1.
Lawmakers had delayed the regents vote amid disagreement among Democrats over the diversity of the candidates as they try to shift the demographics on a board that is largely made up of white men. Three of the new regents are women and two are people of color — but that doesn’t change the makeup of the board much. A quarter of the regents are now people of color and the three new women are the only females on the board.
For months, it was unclear whether the Legislature would even make the regents decision. If they failed to vote by the end of the session this month, the responsibility would have fallen to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to appoint people.
Kao Ly Ilean Her, one of two newly elected at-large regents along with Mary Davenport, said she appreciates the process of convincing legislators that she is the right person for the position.
“I earned this position, vs. an appointment,” said Her, of Maplewood, who is chief executive of the Hmong Elders Center in St. Paul.
She eked out a win with the support of most Democratic legislators. Her said she was nervously tracking votes Tuesday as she and the other regent candidates watched the balloting process from the gallery above the House floor. Below them, the House and Senate had gathered in one chamber and went through roll call votes.
Two other regents were selected quickly: University of Minnesota Duluth senior and former student body President Mike Kenyanya is the new student regent, and Janie Mayeron, a retired federal magistrate judge from Minneapolis, will represent the Fifth Congressional District on the board.
“Like all higher education institutions, we’re dealing with changing demographics in our state, changing needs for workforce, working with the other colleges and systems,” Mayeron said. “We’ve got a lot of work that I think we’ll be doing and that the university will be facing.”
Her said accessibility and affordability are two issues that contributed to her decision to seek a regents position. She added that she’ll be working to ensure “the university is affordable, that we can pay our bills but also maintain our quality.”
Sixty-five people applied for the four unpaid positions. The selections had to reflect the state’s gender and ethnic diversity, Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, said in a statement.
“I’m pleased we were able to come together on a bipartisan, bicameral level to approve these regent seats that are best representative of our state,” said Bernardy, chairwoman of the House higher education committee.
Geographic diversity also is important, said Davenport, of Mankato. She is former interim president of Rochester Community and Technical College.
“I’ve been on every campus, both of the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State colleges and universities, and you really get that firsthand view and get to talk to the students and faculty and see the conditions of the buildings,” Davenport said.
Most of the new regents are expected to attend Friday’s board meeting, according to university officials.
Abdul Omari is one of three incumbents who applied to return to the board but were not selected. He said he looks forward to the work the new members will do. He added that the new board will have a lot to work on, from considering new revenue streams and innovative ways to deliver education to freedom of speech and equity issues.