The coronavirus, incoming Provost Rachel Croson, and real estate were all points of discussion at the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents meeting Friday in Duluth.
The regents also brushed over topics including the acceptance of the Teamsters Local 320 union contract, as well as the sale of KUMD, a student radio station on the Duluth campus.
Michael Osterholm, the University's director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, presented at the meeting to explain the University’s response to the coronavirus and its next steps.
“[This] is surely the greatest professional challenge that I have ever known in my 45 years at the University of Minnesota,” Osterholm said at the meeting.
Osterholm also warned that making a vaccine for any disease is not as hard as ensuring the vaccine is safe for humans. Anyone could contract the virus, including upper level administrators. This could impact the University’s functions and leadership, Osterholm said.
“There are two types of people in this country,” Osterholm said at the meeting. “Those who are in quarantine, and those who will be soon.”
Osterholm also expressed concern that not all cases are severe enough to be detected and reported, yet are still able to be spread to others.
The regents decided to direct $5 million from the central reserves towards fighting the pandemic. President Joan Gabel will choose how the funding will be used.
“We are ready to close the campus if we have to,” Gabel said.
Incoming Provost Rachel Croson
The regents also spoke on the subject of Rachel Croson, the incoming executive vice president and provost, who will begin her role on March 30.
Recent discussion has taken place in the University’s administration over Croson’s handling of an employee conduct investigation at Michigan State University. Board members were split on how they should proceed with the information.
“I have zero concerns over Rachel Croson,” Gabel said at the meeting, who noted that Croson is highly respected and trusted in handling sexual misconduct cases at Michigan State.
Regent Micheal Hsu, who began the conversation, said he felt there was a lack of sufficient information given to the board.
Hsu introduced a resolution to suspend Croson's appointment as provost until the board could meet to discuss the matter further. The resolution did not pass, with a vote of 9-2.
Regent Darrin Rosha said he felt similarly and is seeking more information. However, he said he felt that the issue should not impact Croson’s onboarding.
Regent Mary Davenport said she was skeptical of whether the information should change the previous decisions of the board to hire Croson.
“[This] feels like a smear to me,” said Regent Richard Beeson at the meeting.
Real estate transactions
The regents spent part of their time discussing the sale of the Murphy Warehouse Company property. The board approved the $22 million sale to Ryan Companies, a real estate corporation based in Minneapolis. Conversations surrounding the property have been ongoing since earlier this academic year.
“We're also committed in the broad sense to being effective stewards of scarce resources and making sometimes difficult choices on where to invest our limited funds,” Gabel said, due to the high cost associated with keeping the property.