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Strong words, yet little change to U of M oversight

ST. PAUL — The Legislature doesn't appear likely to make major changes to the University of Minnesota's governing board, despite recent scandals involving the school's sports programs and claims of administrative overspending.

Four spots are open on the school's 12-member Board of Regents. The Republican-led Legislature has the chance for a major overhaul similar to 2011, when GOP appointees replaced a long-standing labor seat on the board. Instead, lawmakers are ready to bring back three sitting regents and a former one, saying the candidates know the school needs to reverse course on a number of issues.

The school's image has taken a hit in recent years by scandals involving athletic department administrators and athletes. Two senior administrators stepped down amid reports of inappropriate sexual behavior, the school's wrestling coach was fired for his handling of drug allegations involving some wrestlers and, most recently, several football players were expelled or suspended after a woman reported she was sexually assaulted by several men at an off-campus apartment.

No charges were filed, but the football coach was eventually fired.

Coupled with complaints of overinflated budgets, lawmakers are pushing the land-grant institution to make changes. Those changes though, aren't reflected in the regent candidates.


The football scandal has changed things in a way not seen before, said Rep. Gene Pelowski, adding that regents know the status quo will not be accepted anymore. The Winona Democrat said the candidates know they need to shake things up in their return to the board.

Without those changes, some legislators said the university may see the effects during its budget request.

Republican Rep. Drew Christensen, of Savage, said he and other lawmakers are looking for candidates who share the Legislature's commitment to keeping the university accountable, reducing "wasteful" administrative costs and lowering tuition. Though he didn't name anyone specifically, Christensen said some of the regents whom lawmakers aren't satisfied with are not up for election.

Sviggum, the only candidate who isn't a sitting regent, is seen by many as a reform-minded choice for the board, despite his previous resignation from the board in 2012 because of conflict of interest concerns.

Backed by a number of legislators unsatisfied with an advisory council's recommendations, Sviggum was brought on as a last-minute addition during a joint committee meeting.

"I think legislators are generally a little frustrated with the university, whether that be the administrative costs or the recent developments of the athletic department," he said.

If chosen, Sviggum said he will act as a "change agent" and challenge administrative policies. He said stronger oversight of the budget and athletics department will raise the University of Minnesota's accountability.

Still, the candidate recommendations are not set in stone, as lawmakers are allowed to nominate new candidates Wednesday before they take a final vote.

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