The University of Minnesota is courting William McGuire, the health insurance executive who lost his job in a stock options scandal, as "executive in residence" at its business school.

Stephen Parente, director of the Medical Industry Leadership Institute in the Carlson School of Management, said the school had given him the go-ahead to explore the idea with McGuire, former chief executive of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group.

"We are courting him to be an executive-in-residence at Carlson," Parente said, adding that McGuire's immense experience in health care is what appealed to the university.

The position is a new one and explorations are still highly preliminary, with the possibility of teaching, mentoring and research all on the table. Whether McGuire will be paid is also up in the air.

Bob Chlopak, a spokesman for McGuire, said nothing was close to being decided.

"Dr. McGuire greatly values his relationship with the University of Minnesota, but he has not made any decisions about the next step in his career, and is not expecting to do so in the immediate future," Chlopak said.

"Dr. McGuire continues to be active in the health care sector, focusing his time on how to expand access and improve both the efficiency and quality of our current health care system. He also continues to pursue his philanthropic work on issues surrounding access to quality education for disadvantaged people, and preserving and protecting the environment."

In 2003, McGuire's family foundation gave $10 million to help build the McGuire Translational Research facility at the university, and he has given almost $10 million for undergraduate scholarships for needy students.

The U's approach

McGuire stepped down as chief executive of UnitedHealth Group in late 2006 after an internal investigation found that stock options at the company had likely been backdated.

This week, he agreed to pay a record $30 million to settle a class-action lawsuit led by the California Public Employees' Retirement System without admitting wrongdoing. He earlier paid a record $7 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission and relinquished a total of $618 million in options and other benefits obtained while running UnitedHealth.

While head of UnitedHealth, McGuire regularly spoke at national events, including the World Health Congress, a large annual conference attended by the biggest names in medical care and insurance.

Parente said he first reached out to McGuire in August 2007, inviting him to be the keynote speaker at an invitation-only event attended by 70 to 80 guests at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. The subject of McGuire's talk was the future of health care.

McGuire hit familiar themes during the hourlong speech, including the need for universal access to health care and the need to track the quality of care by physicians and to pay them accordingly.

Parente said his approach to McGuire was along the lines of: "We don't really care about the stock options. You know stuff. Tell us what you think."

Since then, McGuire has attended two seminars at the Carlson school, including one where he arrived unannounced.

Parente said McGuire knew of him from his research into consumer-driven health plans, which are high-deductible plans linked to health savings accounts. Parente is known nationally for his work tracking the development of these new plans and he is a health adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

Ethics concerns discussed

There was some discussion within the school, Parente said, on whether it was appropriate to engage McGuire, given the lawsuits and investigations in which he was embroiled. The conclusion was that it was.

"It's one thing if you're bringing in a criminal to speak. But if someone's under investigation, that's fair game," he said.

Since then, McGuire has acted as "ad hoc kitchen-cabinet adviser" to him, Parente said.

In June, when Parente presented a paper titled "Is Consumerism at Odds with Prevention?" at the American Society of Health Economics at Duke University, he listed McGuire as one of six co-authors.

The university has not paid McGuire for any of his work.

"This is a very smart, very engaged, very energetic person," Parente said. "He seems to have, despite everything else, decided to stay in the area. It would be pretty much negligent on my part not to attempt to engage him."

Chen May Yee • 612-673-7434