The Minnesota Legislature will soon choose four regents to serve on the 12-member University of Minnesota Board of Regents. It is an election that will set the path of one of Minnesota’s most important institutions.
As retirees from the University of Minnesota and members of the University of Minnesota Retirees Association who have devoted our professional lives to the university, we hope the Legislature will choose nonpartisan people of substantial accomplishment and great integrity who can work successfully with University President Joan Gabel.
Leadership and teamwork required
This is particularly true as we continue to confront a pandemic that has caused so much illness, death, and economic upheaval. These circumstances have made the operation of the university even more difficult than it always is. The regents must provide leadership on significant financial issues, the future of intercollegiate athletics, human resource matters and the continuing use of remote learning technology. We need regents who can be part of a team that can cooperate with the university’s professional administrators to make difficult decisions that may well be choices between bad alternatives.
The university needs the best people we can find. People who will put partisanship aside, leave personal agendas at the door, and effectively cooperate with others in leading the university in the coming years.
We believe the regents are the most important actors in determining the success of the university as a whole. The Board of Regents is responsible for the oversight of the university and each individual regent has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the university rather than to further any other interest. These are high bars that require people of great character.
An immense economic engine for Minnesota
The University of Minnesota is the only research university in the state. It educates more than 50,000 students annually and undertakes $1+ billion of research each year. It employs more than 26,000 people on five campuses and graduates 15,000 students each year with undergraduate, professional and doctorate degrees. It is an immense economic engine for the state, generating $8+ billion in annual economic activity.
Our citizens and government have created an entity that is among the best higher education institutions in the United States and the world. We need to preserve and foster this incredible public asset.
The Legislature has wisely created the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC), a bipartisan body that screens candidates and makes recommendations based on merit for each of the open seats. It is similar to the Commission on Judicial Selection, which serves Minnesota well by basing judicial selections on merit.
On Jan. 8, 2021, the RCAC made its recommendations for each of the four districts. The University Alumni Association conducted a forum with the candidates on Jan. 19. Now comes the hard part.
Duty is solely to the university
The Legislature must choose regents whose primary objective is to help and promote the university. The Board of Regents should not be a political prize or enclave. The duty of each regent is to the university, not to a political party or special interest. The goal is to choose individuals who have demonstrated good judgment in their work and lives and who have shown the ability to respect the views and opinions of others. Each of the chosen regents must have the ability to cooperate with each other and to form a respectful partnership with university administrators.
We are fortunate that there have been many such regents. The task now is to find more. The future of the university depends on it.
Frank Cerra is retired as dean of the U of M Medical School and senior vice president of Health Sciences and Services. Robert Bruininks is retired as president. William Donohue is a retired general counsel. This commentary was written on behalf of the University of Minnesota Retirees Association and in memory of Richard “Fitz” Pfutzenreuter, retired chief financial officer.
The following authors also contributed to this commentary: Jan Morlock, retired director of community relations; Kathleen O’Brien, retired vice president university services; Donna Peterson, retired associate vice president for government and community relations; Gerald Rinehart, retired vice provost for student affairs and dean of students; Greg Hestness, retired University of Minnesota Police chief; Gary Engstrand, retired, University Senate and College of Education; Jean Kinsey, professor emerita, Department of Applied Economics; Kristine Mortensen, retired, University of Minnesota Foundation; Eric Hockert, retired, Office for Technology Commercialization; Will Craig, associate director emeritus, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs; and KaiMay Terry, board member, University of Minnesota Retirees Association.
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