2 compete for board slot

By Heather J. Carlson

ST. PAUL — A candidate for the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents raised questions Thursday about the cost-effectiveness of outstate research centers such as the Hormel Institute in Austin.

Randy Simonson said he is concerned about redundancies in the university system and would like to take a closer look at some of these regional centers.

"I don’t know about these facilities whether they are cost-effective. I would like to see a study of that," he said.


The incumbent candidate, Dr. Patricia Simmons, said she is a strong supporter of these centers and sees them as important to the state’s economy. She pointed to the connections being fostered between the Hormel Institute, Mayo Clinic, the university and its local extension office.

"They definitely feed on each other and I think the sustainability and growth is heightened because of that type of relationship. It’s critical for the university to be all around the state," she said.

Lawmakers interviewed the two finalists, who are competing for the First Congressional District seat on the university’s governing board.

Simmons, of Rochester, serves as the board’s chair and is completing her first six-year term. If re-elected, she said she would continue to serve as board chair. Simmons is a physician and professor of pediatrics at Mayo Medical School. Simonson, of Worthington, Minn., is CEO of Newport Laboratories, a biotechnology company focused on agricultural.

Austin Rep. Jeanne Poppe, a Democrat, asked the candidates what role they see the university playing in maintaining and growing research centers like the Hormel Institute and the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minn.

If elected, Simonson said he would like to see the university refocus on its original mission as a land-grant university. He said he is concerned about making sure the school remains affordable and would not support a tuition increase. He said it is also important to look at ways the university can help boost the state’s economy through its research and discoveries.

Simmons agreed that keeping higher education affordable is key. However, she said it is likely there will be a need to raise tuition this year in the face of steep cuts in state funding. The university also needs to look at ways to boost its efficiency and to find more reliable revenue streams to support its efforts.

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