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Minnesota Legislature

Five people forwarded to House, Senate for four U of M Board of Regents seats

University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. House Photography file photo

Four out of five people may be one vote away from serving on the University of Minnesota’s governing body.

The Board of Regents is the only governmental body in the state whose members are elected by the Legislature. It is comprised of 12 members who serve staggered six-year terms without pay. By law, one regent is selected from each of the state’s eight congressional districts and four serve at-large.

At a joint meeting of the House and Senate higher education committees Monday, legislators endorsed candidates for four board positions. The six-year terms up for election represent the 5th Congressional District, one student statewide at-large seat and two statewide at-large seats.

Recommended to have their name placed before a joint convention of the Legislature are:

  • Janie Mayeron, a retired United States magistrate judge from Minneapolis, from the 5th Congressional District;
  • Mike Kenyanya, student body president at the Duluth campus, for the student seat; and
  • Mary Davenport from Mankato for one of the two at-large seats. Davenport has worked for more than 35 years in higher education, including a stint as interim president of Rochester Community and Technical College.

Kao Ly Ilean Her and Sandra Wiese, who were within two votes after multiple rounds of voting, were both forwarded for an at-large seat. Her, from Maplewood, is the former executive director of the State Council on Asian-Pacific Americans; Wiese, from Eagan, oversees six divisions as a senior vice president at Data Recognition Corporation.    

No date has been set for the joint convention. 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. Elected regents take office immediately upon election by the joint convention.

Candidates were plentiful, with 47 applications submitted to the Regent Candidate Advisory Council. Interviews with 23 candidates in early January narrowed the field to 16 finalists recommended to the joint committee. Seventy-five percent of the recommended candidates are women or persons of color, including the quintet whose names were forwarded. (Listen to the interviews)

“This was a diverse candidate pool that was exceptional in accomplishment and vision. The willingness of these people to give of their time, talent and energy to serve the University and the State as a Regent speaks well of them as individuals and shows that the Governing Board of the University attracts people who are well credentialed, experienced and with expertise essential to good governance,” Council Chair Daniel Wolter said in a statement.

Current regent Abdul Omari, an at-large representative since 2013, was not recommended for reappointment by the council; however, his name was offered for the 5th District seat by Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-Mpls), Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center) and Rep. Tou Xiong (DFL-St. Paul) along with a sufficient number of senators, who rose their hand in support. However, he was defeated by Mayeron in the third round of voting.

Gomez then nominated Omari for an at-large seat before a required show of hands put his name into consideration. He was eliminated on the fourth ballot.

Although their reasons for seeking a seat differ slightly, and backgrounds are more widespread, all candidates spoke to the joint committee about the importance of advocacy and their passion for the university.


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