University of Minnesota Board of Regents: Women hold majority for first time in history

For the first time since the University of Minnesota was founded more than 150 years ago, women make up the majority of its governing board. 

The Minnesota House and Senate met in a joint session Monday to elect four members to the Board of Regents. Three of the members chosen were women, making for a total of eight women and four men on the board.

"The fact that they went with a majority of women is really significant signaling to a lot of the faculty and the staff that are women at the university on all the campuses. But it's also a significant signaling to young women that things have changed in Minnesota," Thomas Devine, a former regent who is now considered a "Regent Emeritus" told FOX 9. "The legislature has recognized women's role in running an institution as important as the University of Minnesota."

The legislature elected AFL-CIO Vice Present Robyn Gulley for the second congressional district, Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner for the third, and former Allina C.E.O. Dr. Penny Wheeler for the at-large position. Tribal attorney Tadd Johnson was re-elected for the eighth. 

The board as a whole has a lot on the line, including helping choose a new university president, and the high stakes 'Fairview-Sanford' merger. The regents elected today will serve a six-year term. 

What the DFL legislature said 

Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis), whose district includes the University of Minnesota:

"Throughout our state’s history, the University of Minnesota has always been vitally important to the health and well-being of our state, with its connections rippling out to virtually every community," said Leader Dziedzic. "The appointment of these members of the Board of Regents comes at a critical time for the University system. The Board will play a key role in the hiring of the University’s next president and will be entrusted to provide guidance and oversight on behalf of students, faculty, employees, and all Minnesotans." 

 Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis):

"These candidates bring a rich diversity of personal and professional backgrounds to the Board of Regents. Their combined expertise in education, economics, labor, healthcare, and BIPOC issues will inform their decision-making and steer the University of Minnesota system to a stronger future."

In Devine’s view, the changes could have a significant impact on key issues facing the board now, including: 

RELATED: Fairview Health Services’s pending merger with Sanford Health 

Devine noted that Wheeler’s election now means there are two licensed physicians on the board, with the other being Dr. Ruth Johnson from the Mayo Clinic. 

"Those two are going to have a significant impact in terms of influencing their fellow board members on what happens with the Fairview situation," he said. 

Union negotiations 

University of Minnesota graduate students recently voted to form a union. Devine thinks the addition of two union leaders in Gulley and Wheeler could influence how the U of M deals with union issues. 

"They're going to have two voices at the table, which they didn't have before. That will be impactful, I'm sure," he said. 

Budget cuts at the College of Liberal Arts 

Last week, students and faculty at the university marched on campus to protest budget cuts to the College of Liberal Arts, some of which the administration later said were incorrect due to a technical error. Devine says the new board will likely review the budget changes 

"The university is going to be better off because there's going to be new sets of eyes. Things will not be status quo, is what I predict will happen. There's going to be a lot of people looking a lot more closely at where things are at and what needs to be done over there, what happens next," he said. 

Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday, May 3, at 10 a.m. at the Northrop Plaza outside Johnson Hall.  

What the board does 

The 12-member Board of Regents is the university’s governing body. Among its duties is to clarify the university’s mission, approve programs necessary to fulfill that mission, and monitor and evaluate the performance of the institution to fulfill its mission.

Nomination by a joint committee was first established in 2005. A candidate needs a majority vote of the 201-member Legislature to be elected to a seat. Legislators are not bound to vote for only the finalists presented.

One-third of the board is elected by the Legislature in each odd-numbered year. One regent is nominated from each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts, and four from the state at large.


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