Many of Minnesotans’ highest shared aspirations are linked to the University of Minnesota. That fact should weigh heavily on the 201 members of the Legislature Wednesday night as they assemble to perform one of their most important duties, the election of members of the university’s Board of Regents.
Legislators have four seats to fill, those reserved for the Second, Third and Eighth congressional districts and one at-large. An advisory council recommended 12 candidates; a joint House-Senate higher education panel put its imprimatur on three from that list — all incumbents — and one candidate of its own selection, former GOP House Speaker Steve Sviggum, for the Second District seat.
But this remains an open election. Any legislator can nominate a new candidate for consideration. We hope none does.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board opted not to screen candidates and recommended a slate of our own. But we urge legislators to respect the vetting done by the joint higher education committee and the advisory council, the latter a distinguished group headed by Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede. More candidacies at this late hour would only send a message that state government does not take seriously the governance of its flagship educational institution.
An unfortunate message would also be sent if these elections appear to turn on an issue that was too prominent at the committee level — the use of tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research at the university.
Minnesota is striving for world renown in the health and medical fields. Breakthroughs in biomedical research at the university can do much to achieve that goal. The Board of Regents is obliged to hold researchers accountable for compliance with state and federal laws. But the Legislature ought not elect regents who are intent on going beyond the law’s requirements in restricting fetal-tissue use in the search for cures.
A desire for continuity on the board also seemed in play as the joint committee recommended incumbents Darrin Rosha in the Third District, David McMillan in the Eighth and Thomas Devine for the at-large seat. McMillan, of Duluth, is slated to succeed Dean Johnson as chair of the board in July.
While prior service as a regent is valuable, we hope legislators look again at the exceptional governing board experience brought by one other candidate on the advisory council’s roster. Ken Powell is chairman and CEO of General Mills and also serves on the governing boards of Medtronic and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. As a regent, he would bring a desirable global business perspective on matters that have long been central to the U’s mission — food, agriculture and health.
Very few Fortune 500 CEOs in Minnesota’s modern era have volunteered to serve on the Board of Regents, which demands 30 to 40 hours per month of work without pay. If the Legislature says no to Powell, we suspect they won’t see another candidate with similar qualifications for a long time.