A special panel charged with recommending people for appointment to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents rebuffed three high-profile candidates: the board’s current chair, a former regent and a frequent critic of the university.
The Regent Candidate Advisory Council Friday did not forward the names of Chair Kendall Powell, former regent Michael Hsu or current law professor Richard Painter.
The panel did send 12 names to the Legislature, where they will again be reviewed by the combined House and Senate higher education committees. They include former U of M gymnastics coach Mike Burns, current regent Tadd Johnson, former DFL Congressman Bill Luther, Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner, and U of M sports hall of fame member Becky Siekmeier.
The dozen people are candidates for four positions, one each representing Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, 3rd Congressional District and 8th Congressional District as well as one at-large position. Lawmakers are not limited to the names endorsed by the panel and have, in the past, nominated people not vetted by the panel or the higher education committees. The final appointment is done by a rare joint convention where all 201 members of the House and Senate convene in the House chamber. A majority of all members is needed for appointment.
Powell, a former chairman and CEO of General Mills, drew little support throughout the voting, never approaching the two-thirds vote needed. One council member, Edward Reynoso, linked him to the recent controversy when regent Steve Sviggum asked whether the U of M Morris campus was too diverse. Powell issued a statement rejecting those comments and endorsing diversity as a strength of the university. But that statement was considered too tepid when others were calling on Sviggum to resign. The board did accept Sviggum’s resignation as vice chair in the aftermath of the issue, and Sviggum’s term expires this year.
Painter, a former White House ethics officer and candidate for U.S. Senate, had used his interview to criticize the current administration but raised questions when he would not pledge to resign his faculty post if appointed.
Hsu had sought reappointment two years ago and was not appointed by a joint convention of the House and Senate. Former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, a member of the advisory council, said he doubted he would be accepted this time, either. Hsu drew opposition from many DFL lawmakers for his role in rejecting a move to rename campus buildings for former administrators connected to racist and antisemitic statements and actions. Hsu, part of a 10-1 majority who voted to keep building names in place, was one of the loudest voices against changing the buildings’ names.
The voting Friday followed a week of interviews in which the 16 applicants who had survived a previous round of elimination votes in December were interviewed. Relatively little discussion happened before votes were taken to move some candidates to the Legislature. There were three put forward in the 2nd Congressional District, four in the 3rd Congressional District, two in the 8th Congressional District and four for the at-large position.
2nd Congressional District
- Joe Atkins, of Inver Grove Heights, is an attorney and current member of the Dakota County Board of Commissioners and was reelected to the commission in November.
- Robyn Gulley, of West St. Paul, is a labor training specialist for the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
3rd Congressional District
- William Humphries, of Chanhassen, is a former Gopher football player and former president of the M Club who owns several quick-serve restaurants in the Twin Cities with his son Kris Humphries, who played basketball for the Gophers and in the NBA.
- Bill Luther, of Minnetonka, served in Congress for four terms from 1995 to 2003 and was in the state Senate before that. He was a finalist for a regent position in 2015.
- Penny Wheeler, of Orono, retired from the CEO position at Allina Health earlier this year and is a board member of the University of Minnesota Foundation.
- Mary Turner, of Plymouth, has been the public face of the nurses union in the Twin Cities during political campaigns and in recent high-profile job actions by the union against area hospitals. She is an ICU nurse at North Memorial Hospital.
8th Congressional District
- Susan Cohen, of White Bear Lake, is the president of the Center for Regulatory Research and a former plant pathologist with the USDA.
- Tadd Johnson, of Duluth, was appointed to a vacant seat on the board by Gov. Tim Walz and is a former professor and director of graduate studies at the U of M Duluth who resigned when he was appointed. He also is a senior adviser on government affairs with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
- Val Aarsvold, of Altura, is the executive director of the Minnesota FFA Foundation and an agriculture education graduate of the U of M.
- Mike Burns, of St. Paul, was the head coach of the U of M gymnastic program who lost his job when the board voted to eliminate that sport and others.
- Rebecca Siekmeier, of Grant, is the director of the SciTech internship program for the Minnesota Technology Association. She is a former Gopher discus thrower and a member of the U of M Hall of Fame.
- Flora Yang, of Eden Prairie, is a current human physiology student and is the student body president at the U of M’s Twin Cities campus. While the board has a position dedicated to a current student, Yang is seeking appointment to a position open to all residents.
Correction: Cheryl Bemel had withdrawn her name from consideration before voting and was not recommended by the panel Friday.