Jim Carter, a finalist for the University of Minnesota's governing board, is accusing U leaders of trying to scuttle his candidacy after Twin Cities reporters received anonymous letters about a 1976 sexual harassment lawsuit against the former Green Bay Packer and his team.

Carter, one of three finalists for a vacancy in the Second Congressional District, said he has no evidence that University President Eric Kaler's administration was involved in what he described as a smear campaign against him.

The letters included news clipping copies about an incident in which Carter exposed himself to a team receptionist and asked for oral sex. They promise to complicate Carter's Board of Regents candidacy on the heels of the suspensions of Gophers football players involved in a sexual assault investigation and the firing of their coach — a highly publicized episode whose handling Carter has vocally criticized.

"I have no reason not to believe that President Kaler and his administration are not involved in this," said Carter, a former Gopher.

In a statement, U spokesman Evan Lapiska said accusations that administrators meddled in regent elections are "completely unfounded."

"The University respects this process very much, and will welcome whomever the Legislature appoints to this critical role," he wrote. "The University administration does not get involved in any way in Regent elections."

Back in 1976, Carter described the incident that led to the lawsuit against him as "harmless." But he now says it was "terrible, horrible bad behavior by a drunk." He said that after the receptionist refused his advance, he did not press the matter and left. The lawsuit, in which the receptionist charged she lost her job after complaining about Carter, was eventually settled.

Carter says alcohol and sex addiction explain his behavior but do not excuse it. He says he has been sober for more than 35 years and takes pride in the work he has done to maintain his sobriety, including attending three or four support group meetings each week.

"Somebody stoops so low to send anonymous letters about something I did 41 years ago before I got into sobriety and recovery," he said. He said the incident doesn't disqualify him from serving on the board.

The lawsuit first resurfaced last spring when Carter was nominated to serve on a search committee to replace former U Athletic Director Norwood Teague, who resigned when accused of sexual harassment by U employees. Carter said Kaler called to let him know he would not be chosen because a former Board of Regents chair, Dave Metzen, had reported the 1976 incident.

Carter has since emerged as an administration critic who spoke in support of a short-lived boycott by Gophers football players after their teammates were suspended. Earlier this week, he sent a letter to regents arguing the payout to former football coach Tracy Claeys and the contract for his successor should have come before the board.

"I think Kaler is afraid of what I know is happening at the university," said Carter, a former Gopher. "He doesn't want somebody like me asking questions on the board."

Carter said he does not condone sexual assault but simply backed the players' call for changes in how the university investigates assault allegations. The players called off the boycott after an internal investigation report was leaked describing multiple players and a Gophers recruit taking turns having sex with a student who said she felt coerced.

Doing 'what's right for U'

Metzen said the Packers suit was big news at the time in South St. Paul, where he was high school hockey coach when Carter was on the team. He said he told Kaler about it because he was concerned it would come up and embarrass the U, which was being criticized for inadequately vetting Teague before hiring him.

"I love the university, and I wanted to do what is right for the university," Metzen said. "I felt this was best for Jim Carter, too."

Metzen, a former state higher education commissioner, said he had nothing to do with the anonymous letters.

Dean Johnson, the Board of Regents chair, rejected the idea that the board or school administrators would interfere in the regent selection process. He also said Carter's suggestion that the board hasn't been tough enough on the administration is unfair. He said the regents are poised to review and vote on the contract for new Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck on Feb. 10.

Bill Gleason, a retired U professor and a persistent critic of the Kaler administration, said he highly doubts it was involved in the letters. While a 40-year-old misstep should not normally disqualify somebody from public service, he said, a Carter appointment would be problematic at this time of intense campus reckoning around sexual harassment and assault.

"We really can't afford to do this right now given the mess at the U," he said.

Carter is vying for the Second District seat with Ian Benson, a vice president at Xcel Energy and retired Navy officer, and Sandra Krebsbach, executive director of the American Technical Education Association and former Mendota Heights mayor. It is one of four open seats on the 12-member board.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who will co-chair the joint committee that picks the regents, said he still considers Carter a qualified candidate.

"It's troubling to me that we go that far back in a person's past and it still haunts them," he said. "I am usually more forgiving than that."

Dan Wolter, vice chairman of the advisory council that picked the finalists, said the council wasn't aware of the lawsuit when it considered Carter. He said the council will likely consider changes to its application and reference-check process.

The university's Alumni Association is hosting a forum with the finalists at 5 p.m. Jan. 31 in Room 5 of the Minnesota State Office Building.