Former lawmakers, business executives, health care workers, students and a gymnastics coach were among the more than two dozen people who applied to join the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents next year.
Four slots are opening on the volunteer board, which plays an important role in shaping the trajectory of the university system that educates nearly 70,000 students per year.
The search is happening at a time when the board finds itself under extra scrutiny. Some students are calling for a greater role on the board and more meaningful interactions after Regent Steve Sviggum this fall questioned whether the U's Morris campus had become "too diverse."
Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, who leads the Regent Candidate Advisory Council that screens applicants, said they try to find a diverse set of candidates and that he felt good about this year's field, calling them "talented" and "passionate."
The board includes 12 regents, one from each of the state's eight congressional districts and four selected statewide. At least one seat goes to a student, who can continue to serve after graduation. The regents, who serve six-year terms, help set tuition rates, refine pitches for state funding, vet the system's strategic plan and review some legal matters.
Two regents, Tadd Johnson and Chair Ken Powell, have applied to serve again, while two others — Sviggum and Darrin Rosha — did not. Sviggum no longer lives in the Second Congressional District that he was selected to represent, after lawmakers redrew district lines based on new census data. Rosha didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
The selection process begins with the advisory council, a 24-person group whose members include state lawmakers, a student and a labor leader, among others. The group met Friday morning to whittle down the pool of applicants from 29 to the 18 people they plan to invite for interviews next month.
Council members said little about the applicants Friday, except an occasional sentence or two about the ones they knew. Some highlighted the applicants' experience helping students get internships, lobbying legislators on various issues, donating to the U system or working on student government.
The council plans to interview the candidates during an in-depth process in January, according to Clausen, and vote on a series of finalists.
The final decision will rest with state lawmakers, who can follow the council's recommendations or completely ignore them, even tossing their own candidates' names into the mix. This will be the first regent selection process to take place since the DFL Party took control of both the state House and Senate in the November elections.
Among the applicants to be interviewed is Mike Burns, who for decades coached gymnastics at the U and became a vocal critic of the regents after the U cut funding for his and other athletic programs. Burns, who attended Friday's council meeting, said he has seen how the regents work. "I wasn't all super impressed by it," he said.
Another applicant is former Regent Michael Hsu, who would become the second regent of color to be selected a second time for the board. In his prior term as a regent, Hsu frequently questioned tuition hikes and administrator pay.
Others who will be interviewed for the board are Val Aarsvold, executive director of the Minnesota FFA Foundation; former state Rep. Joe Atkins; psychologist Cheryl Bemel; Susan Cohen, president of the Center for Regulatory Research; Arnoldo Curiel, director of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility for the University of Minnesota Physicians; AFL-CIO local training specialist Robyn Gulley; Credo LLC operating partner William Humphries; former congressman Bill Luther; U law professor and former White House counsel Richard Painter; Steven Sanderson, development chair for Friends of the Arava Institute; Rebecca Siekmeier, director of the SciTech internship program at the Minnesota Technology Association; Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association; former Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler; and Flora Yang, president of the Undergraduate Student Government on the U's Twin Cities campus.