List of regents candidates narrowed

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Twelve finalists have emerged for four open spots on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents after a day of interviews and a chaotic round of voting Wednesday. 

Sixteen candidates were interviewed over three days for the vacancies on the University’s governing board which is responsible for approving budgets, new building plans and policy changes.

Current regents Steven Hunter and David Larson were among the finalists chosen by a 24-member citizen advisory council for consideration by the House and Senate higher education committees, who will present a final slate of candidates to the full Legislature for approval.

During his interview Wednesday, Hunter talked about the stark financial difficulties facing the University and said the school would need to “right-size” itself amidst the upcoming presidential transition.

“I think we’re going to have to eliminate some programs,” he said. “My goal would be that a year from now we can say we had a smooth transition and … as part of that smooth transition we made progress towards right-sizing the University in terms of its programs, administration and staff.”

One long-time member of the advisory council described Hunter’s interview as one of the greatest he’d seen during his tenure, while others expressed concern about Hunter’s ability to separate his roles advocating for the AFL-CIO, his employer, and the University.

The Legislature must replace regents representing Congressional Districts 2, 3 and 8, which include counties south of the metro area, the northern suburbs of Hennepin County and northeastern Minnesota. One at-large representative to the board will also be chosen.

Hunter was one of three candidates chosen for the at-large bid, along with Allen Anderson, an executive with the Minnesota-based agricultural cooperative CHS Inc., and Robert Kennedy, the outgoing president of the University of Maine.

Kennedy was at the center of much of Wednesday’s discussion and was called a “jewel” and an “absolute treasure” by board members due to his previous experience in higher education.

“This is the type of regent the University of Minnesota needs and deserves,” said council member Margaret Carlson, the former CEO of the University’s alumni association.

During his tenure at the University of Maine, Kennedy dealt with many of the same problems facing the University of Minnesota, and talked about his experiences growing the school’s research portfolio, capitalizing on discoveries made by university researchers and partnering with other colleges throughout the state.

The voting process was hectic at times, with motions and substitute motions tossed about and confusion among the council members about which items were up for consideration. 

The first ballot for the 8th district candidates was thrown out and a revote held after some ballots were turned in before the discussion period had finished.

After two more rounds of voting, Kennedy was also selected as a candidate from the 8th district and was joined by Robert Ostlund, a former superintendent of multiple metro area school districts, and David McMillan, an executive with Minnesota Power.  William Burns, a Duluth-based attorney, was not voted in as an 8th district finalist, but was immediately added to the list following a post-vote motion.

Having 24 people on the council with differing opinions led to the intense discussion, said member Jim Erickson, but he thinks the proceedings resulted in a strong “menu” of candidates for the Legislature to choose from.

“I wanted to give [the Legislature] a range of choices they can make,” he said. “Our job is to give them the best people who are fully qualified … now they will decide what expertise they want on the board.”

In the 2nd district, outgoing state representative Laura Brod was chosen along with former House speaker Steve Sviggum and Thomas Devine, an executive at David Agency, Inc., an insurance company.

Regent Larson, a Cargill executive, was among those chosen from the 3rd district and will faceoff against Norman Rickeman, a former executive at technology-consulting firm Accenture, and Dr. Roby Thompson, who spent 30 years as a professor and associate dean in the University of Minnesota’s medical school.

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