Opinion editor’s note: The following article was submitted by several authors on behalf of the University of Minnesota Retirees Association. They are listed below.
Now that the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota has successfully hired a new president, the Minnesota Legislature will consider and fill four seats on the board. The regents are responsible for oversight of the university, and each regent has a fiduciary duty to the university and a duty to act in the best interest of the university rather than to further any special interest.
The University of Minnesota Retirees Association believes the regents are the most important actors in ensuring the success of the university as a whole. The faculty, students, employees of the U and, in fact, the people of Minnesota count on the regents’ integrity and goodwill to put aside any partisanship or outside agenda.
We hope our legislators will elect regents who will help foster the university in all of its missions — teaching, research and service — and preserve it as an educational and economic engine of the state.
We need regents who can partner with the new president, Joan Gabel, and avoid rancor and needless disputes. More important, we need regents who will support the president and have her back when controversies arise, as they surely will. This does not mean that the regents cannot disagree with the president or provide strong oversight. It is in fact the responsibility of the Board of Regents to hold the president accountable while at the same time creating a cooperative relationship.
However, over the past several decades the university has been embroiled in many issues. These or similar challenges will happen again. They are inevitable at such a large public institution engaged in many diverse and independent functions. What is important is that when they do occur, the regents, after discussion with the president, respect and support the president.
Regents are selected through a process that requires a joint meeting of the Minnesota House and Senate to vote on each open seat. This process is governed by the university charter and a small number of statutes. There are 12 regents who serve staggered six-year terms. The statutes require that there be one from each congressional district and that one be a University of Minnesota student.
Happily, Minnesota has in place a merit system for evaluating and recommending regent candidates. The Legislature created the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC) to establish selection criteria and to recruit, consider and recommend two to four people for each open seat. The Advisory Council is composed of 24 members, 12 appointed by the speaker of the House and 12 by a Senate subcommittee. Each of these entities must appoint at least one current U student. It is similar to the Commission on Judicial Selection, which has served Minnesota well by basing selection on merit.
The RCAC was established in 1988 and has functioned well. Over the past four cycles, 14 of the 17 regents finally selected had been recommended by the RCAC. Occasionally, individuals have gone around the system and appealed directly to the Legislature, but we feel the vetting of candidates by the RCAC is an essential step in ensuring that we have great candidates for these positions.
There have been efforts to eliminate the RCAC and make regent selection wholly political. We think this is a bad idea and should be resisted. The Board of Regents should not be a political prize or enclave. The duty of each regent is to the university, not a political party or special interest. The goal should not be to pick partisans, but to choose individuals who have shown substantial accomplishment and good judgment in their lives, and who have demonstrated the ability to respect the views and opinions of others. Fortunately for the university, there have been many such regents.
The authors of this article, all University of Minnesota retirees, include: Frank Cerra, who was an academic health center vice president; Kathleen O’Brien, who was a vice president for university services; Donna Peterson, who was a vice president for government and community relations; Chip Peterson, who worked in the Learning Abroad Center; Gerald Rinehart, who was a vice provost for student affairs and dean of students; Kristine Mortensen, who worked for the University of Minnesota Foundation; Richard Pfutzenreuter, who was a chief financial officer; and William Donohue, who was a general counsel.