U of M board approves Duluth interim chancellor hire over GOP opposition

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted 9-2 on Wednesday to hire former regent and utility executive Dave McMillan for a two-year term as the Duluth campus' interim chancellor after a contentious debate and opposition from legislative Republicans, who alleged a conflict of interest.

Regents James Farnsworth and Darrin Rosha voted no. By the same margin, the board approved offering McMillan a contract that includes a $250,000 salary and a $25,000 per year housing allowance.

University President Joan Gabel defended the process to select McMillan, which she acknowledged was "unusual" but denied a conflict. McMillan was among the regents who approved a pay raise for Gabel in a 9-2 vote last December. Gabel stepped away from the search on the advice of compliance officials and left the boardroom as regents debated McMillan's hire on Wednesday morning.

"I did not promise the job or offer the job to anyone," Gabel said, before calling the allegations "insulting" and said they cause damage to the university.

Board Chairman Ken Powell said the accusations amounted to a "disgraceful Twitter campaign."

"It is deeply saddening that we on this board have entered the world of character assassination via Twitter when things don’t go the way you want," Powell said.

Rosha sought to delay the McMillan vote so the university could hire outside lawyers to do an investigation, but that motion failed.

UMD Chancellor Lynn Black is retiring after serving in the post since 2010. The university contracted with search firm Korn Ferry for $170,000 to do a nationwide search that "didn't result in the right candidate," Gabel said Wednesday.

That is when McMillan resigned from the board in May to apply for the interim chancellor position. Several others also applied, but a search committee led by high-ranking university officials only forwarded McMillan's name to the full Board of Regents for consideration.

This week, 37 Republican state lawmakers sent a letter to regents urging them to vote against McMillan's candidacy.

"We implore you to hold yourselves to the highest moral and ethical standards, avoiding what appears to be a significant and serious conflict of interest," the GOP lawmakers wrote.