Michael O'Keefe said some had advised him to resign as commissioner in order to have a chance at getting reappointed as a regent. (MPR Photo/Patty Marsicano)
University of Minnesota Regent Michael O'Keefe has cleared a key hurdle to being
re-elected, despite some political reluctance to his candidacy. Tuesday night, a House-Senate education committee recommended him and four other candidates for the U's governing board.
O'KEEFE DIRECTLY CONFRONTED THE DOUBTS
of some lawmakers that he could effectively serve as university regent and state Human Services Commissioner. Legislators questioned whether O'Keefe could advocate for the university's state budget request, when the governor who appointed him to the cabinet post has proposed a much lower number. O'Keefe told the committee he already strongly supports the university's request - and has lambasted the governor's proposal.
"In fact, because of the controversy directed toward me, and resulting coverage in the media, my criticism of the governor's proposal, and my vigorous support for the original request are probably more widely known than that of any other board member or applicant for a board position," O'Keefe said.
O'Keefe said some had advised him to resign as commissioner in order to have a chance at getting reappointed as a regent. But he said no one should have to quit his or her job to serve as a regent. Without debate, the committee gave O'Keefe a solid majority on the first ballot. O'Keefe is also a Minnesota Public Radio board member.
Committee members also gave a nod to organized labor. They recommended the secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, Ray Waldron, to a regent's position. Waldron says labor deserves a seat on the board.
"In all the discussions tonight, they've talked about bringing different groups together to reach a consensus on dealing with University of Minnesota issues. The only group that they left out was working families and working people. I think that's the perspective I bring to the university," said Waldron.
Waldron had applied for the post but was not on the list of finalists. His name was put into nomination by committee member Rep. Mary Jo McGuire. Traditionally, one regent position has been reserved for labor. The person who had held the post, William Peterson, died last October. Before Tuesday, no labor candidate was being considered. After multiple ballots which pitted Waldron against one other candidate, the other candidate bowed out and Waldron won.
The committee also nominated U of M alumnus and longtime supporter Richard McNamara. McNamara almost became a regent in 1995, but lost the vote on the floor of the legislature. Now he's back for another try. McNamara gave $10 million to the school to build the new alumni center, which is named after him. McNamara says he wants to pay back the university for all it has done for him and his family. He says there's no connection between his donation and his being considered for a regent's post.
"I think philanthropy is an attitude about giving money to your church and your school and the university. I hope it has nothing to do with buying a seat, because it's not a very good purchase," said McNamara.
Regents are unpaid and work 40 to 50 hours per month, including evenings and weekends.
The committee also renominated current regent Patricia Spence, as well as a senior at the U of M, Morris campus - Angela Bos - to be a student regent. Bos told the committee that as the university grapples with budget priorities, it's important to pay attention to undergraduates.
Angela Bos, a senior at the U's Morris campus, told the committee that as the university grapples with budget priorities, it's important to pay attention to undergraduates. (MPR Photo/Patty Marsicano)
"Coming at this from my perspective as an undergraduate at a coordinate campus, I also think the undergraduate initiative in the budget is very valuable across the board. Undergraduate education is the way that we serve the most Minnesota students," Bos said.
Bos celebrated with her parents after the committee chose her.
Committee members interviewed the candidates on issues ranging from academic freedom to tuition hikes to the battle over state funding. It took five hours to interview the candidates, and take multiple ballots to pare down the list from 12 to five.
And it's not over.
The names of the five nominees go to a joint session of the Legislature on Monday. Lawmakers can then approve this slate of names, or consider new nominations from the floor.
Patty Marsicano covers higher education for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach her via e-mail at email@example.com.