The selection of the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota is always a thing of civic observer intrigue. The oft-stated call to de-politicize an innately political process of election to the Board of Regents by the Legislature during the selection process too often gets the limelight in civic conversation. But the process by which candidates are initially brought to the Legislature deserves critical thought related to how best to ensure an excellent pool of candidates for election to the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.
The Regent Candidate Advisory Committee (RCAC) has been charged by the Legislature to guide the process and bring forward a strong pool of candidates for the Legislature’s consideration. However, this is not without its own controversy, and it has been argued that the RCAC appears to undermine its own legitimacy and impact through process concerns, curious choices and results that actually accentuate the high drama of the election at the legislative level.
This year was no different.
Meet Regent Abdul Omari.
Omari was first selected by the Legislature as a student regent. He was a Ph.D. student at the time of his election. He is now an entrepreneur and founder of a consulting company whose clients include some of the state’s largest companies and many nonprofit organizations and schools with a focus on high value mentoring, leadership development of inner-city youth and cultural intelligence. Yet the RCAC didn’t find him to have enough experience to move forward as an RCAC-approved candidate for the Board of Regents.
In his first term on the Board of Regents, Omari proved himself as a valued member of the board. As a regent, I served with him for a number of years; while we didn’t always agree, he came at issues with a thoughtful and studied approach that also importantly brought a diverse and a fresh perspective to the table. Regent Omari has been a vocal champion for reducing hurdles related to access and affordability. He quickly became a highly impactful member of the board. Yet Omari was not deemed worthy by the RCAC of forwarding to the Legislature for consideration.
Showing his broad community connections and recognition of his expertise, Omari is on numerous boards of directors in the community, including the YMCA Greater Twin Cities, AchieveMpls, and Civic Eagle. Yet, he wasn’t deemed to be experienced enough by the RCAC to be forwarded to the Legislature.
And, if that is not enough, Omari was entrusted by the entire university community to lead the recent presidential search that brought forward an excellent candidate and the university’s 17th president, Joan Gabel. And, by all accounts, he led a top-notch process that brought a top-notch leader to the university. Yet, he was not deemed by RCAC to be qualified enough to be a potential candidate to make the list forwarded to the Legislature for consideration.
To be sure, the list of candidates for the Board of Regents is high in quality. It is always reassuring to see the level of candidates willing to step forward to serve the university and our state as a regent. Nonetheless, to not include Omari in that list is a big swing and miss by the committee. And a crystal clear whiff against RCAC’s stated goal to provide a list of candidates exemplifying a fresh voice and diversity for the board.
Omari should have been a no-brainer for RCAC to forward to the Legislature. His voice is an authentic voice for those who care deeply about diversity and fresh perspective. He has impact.
I expect that Omari will be yet another example of a highly qualified candidate who was snubbed by RCAC who will choose to take their skill set, views, and desire to serve directly to the Legislature for their consideration. And, when that happens, through their own actions, once again RCAC will have raised the flag on behalf of those who wish to see it eliminated. While I haven’t been a vocal voice in favor of eliminating RCAC, it is becoming clearer that the increase in the number of candidates who are taking their case for service as a regent directly to the Legislature and seeking a seat on the board without the RCAC stamp of approval diminishes the RCAC’s raison d’être and argues for reform toward a better process.
The good news is that we have wonderful people who want to serve. The university benefits greatly from the time and talents of those who volunteer to advance the University of Minnesota and who are willing to put themselves out there to seek election to the seat as the Legislature sees fit. But a process that does not include strong, experienced, and impactful candidates like Omari is a process to be questioned.
Laura Brod is a former Republican legislator and former member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
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