Veterans Linda Cohen and Dean Johnson are looking to defend their at-large seats on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents as their six-year terms come to an end.
They’re facing Belle Plaine School District Superintendent Kelly Smith, who has run for a seat in previous years, including in 2012 when he was considered to replace former Regent Steve Sviggum.
Cohen and Johnson were both appointed in 2007.
The Minnesota Daily spoke to each candidate separately about their goals as a regent, issues the University needs to address and how each thinks he or she would benefit the board.
Why are you seeking a term on the Board of Regents?
Johnson: My first six years were a great honor and privilege to serve the people of Minnesota and specifically students, faculty and staff. I found my niche on the Board of Regents and want to continue in this capacity.
I also know that in a couple years we’ll have three of our regents retired, and we’ll for sure have two new ones this year, and so some institutional memory and some bench strength would be a good thing. You need veterans … who understand the process and the governance process well, and I think I do that.
Cohen: I have two major abiding interests: one of which is education and the other is good governance, and I would love to continue working on the education aspect. I think it’s a really meaningful endeavor.
Smith: I certainly am very active in public education, so I see that as a major skill that I could bring to the Board of Regents.
I’m faced with balancing the competing needs of an institution with the available resources, and I think that’s something the University deals with on a regular basis as well.
What unique perspective do you think you bring to the board?
Johnson: I’m a firm believer that education for our citizens at any level is a key to a better, healthier, more environmentally sound and competitive society in commerce and business.
Another level of experience I bring is that I’ve served on all of the upstanding committees. I currently chair the board’s Facilities [and Operations] committee, and I serve on the Education Policy committee.
Cohen: I bring a perspective of education. Just the way it’s very important to have people on the board who have expertise in fiscal matters, I also think the quality of education is enormously important, and I bring the educational aspect and the deep desire for educational excellence.
Smith: Something I would bring to the Board of Regents is certainly an understanding of the first part of our educational system and the desire to make a more seamless system from preschool education right through college.
What are some issues the University still needs to work on?
Johnson: No. 1 is always affordability of education for students at all levels. I’m pleased that we’re moving forward on a zero increase in tuition. The goal — and maybe it’s a non-achievable goal, but it’s something worth working toward — is that [students] can finish their undergraduate debt free.
Also, we’re currently embarking on cutting something like $25 to $28 million out of administration. I wholeheartedly support that because we have to act and administer in a more efficient way than we have in the past.
Cohen: I believe that as excellent as the University is, we need to move it up an echelon.
Also, we want to have affordable access, particularly for our Minnesota resident students, and we want to make sure that we’re running efficiently and effectively, so we need to keep costs down.
Smith: I’m not running on any single issue that I would try to change. My ultimate goal as a regent is to provide solid governance for the board and for the University of Minnesota so it can achieve its mission.
I think that everybody wants the University to be transparent and people to understand where money’s going, and I think that the board and President [Eric] Kaler are trying to do that as they meet with the Legislature.