The number of women serving on the University of Minnesota's 12-member governing board increased from three to five after state lawmakers elected new regents on Monday.
The House and Senate elected Ruth Johnson, James Farnsworth, Kodi Verhalen and Doug Huebsch during a joint meeting. The four new regents will serve six-year terms and be tasked with approving major policies such as tuition increases and an annual budget of about $4 billion.
"It's been a long time coming for this [board] to be closer to having gender balance," said state Rep. Connie Bernardy, a DFLer from New Brighton who chairs the House higher education committee. "I think they bring a lot of talent to the Board of Regents and will make a difference for our state."
The Legislature elects new members to the U's Board of Regents every two years. The unpaid board is made up of one member from each of the state's eight congressional districts and four selected at-large.
This year's election of new regents was unlike any in recent memory. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most lawmakers voted remotely while a handful of their colleagues cast votes inside the Capitol chamber.
Johnson, a Mayo Clinic doctor from Rochester, will represent the First Congressional District on the board. Farnsworth, a senior at the U's Twin Cities campus, was elected to the Fourth District seat. Verhalen, an attorney and engineer from Elk River, ousted incumbent Michael Hsu to win election in the Sixth District. And Huebsch, a fourth-generation family farmer from Perham who served on the University of Minnesota Alumni Association's board of directors from 2014 to 2020, will represent the Seventh District.
Johnson, Farnsworth and Huebsch replaced regents Randy Simonson, Richard Beeson and Thomas Anderson, who did not run for re-election.
Farnsworth was not among the regent finalists recommended to the Legislature, though he did go through the candidate vetting process. GOP lawmakers nominated him from the floor Monday, and he eked out a narrow victory with the help of some DFLers who split from party ranks. The other three new regents were backed by most House and Senate DFLers.
"I am incredibly humbled to have been elected to represent the Fourth Congressional District on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. I look forward to getting to work at this critical time for the University," Farnsworth said in a statement.
In an interview, Hsu said he was disappointed with the outcome of his election but added that he was proud of the work he did while on the board. He did not rule out running for a seat on the board in the future and said he may continue to "move the needle from the outside" on university issues he cares about.
The regents' election comes as the U grapples with a steep pandemic-induced budget deficit and plans to fully reopen its campuses this fall.
The new members will have a say over the university's pandemic response measures and will approve a new budget in the coming months. They will also work with U President Joan Gabel to help the university meet ambitious five-year goals laid out in a newly formed strategic plan.