I had an interesting talk last night with Darrin Rosha after the legislature appointed the 46-year-old attorney from Independence to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
I noted that he surged to victory having not been on the slate of nominees approved by the House and Senate higher-education committees.
(Rosha was nominated from the floor, which is still possible in the final night of voting.)
Rosha, who’d served as a student regent from 1989 to 1995, said he was grateful for his appointment, and was glad that lawmakers were open to considering candidates from outside the traditional regent pipeline.
“It’s a good thing for future regent selection,” he said.
He said he didn’t want to be “too controversial” in talking about the Regent Candidate Advisory Council, the panel that recruits and vets candidates for the legislature.
But as I mentioned in my reporting, he said lawmakers should take a “hard look” at the regents selection process — “a process that 26 years ago I was interviewed for, nominated by the committee, elected by the legislature and served six years” and yet 26 years later “determines that I don’t warrant an interview.”
Rosha estimated that the number of interviews granted this year appears to be about half the number granted when he went through the process a quarter century ago.
“I understand it takes a tremendous amount of time,” he said. “I respect that. But … when it’s so narrow, you would have the possibility that the political analysis of the candidates would start early. A broader process with a wider number of candidates and a wider number of nominees, I think, gives the legislature a wider range of choices.”
Rosha isn’t the only person to question the process of regent selection lately. Former Gov. Arne Carlson has said it’s overly politicized, calling it in “little more than a political beauty contest” in an open letter to legislators last month.
I noticed that the year Rosha left the board as a student regent was the same year the National Institutes for Health sanctioned the U over its management of grant money and its illegal sales of an experimental drug. (He said he left at the beginning of 1995, and sanctions were announced later that year.)
“There were some matters back then that we took very seriously, as I recall — as I was leaving the board,” he said.
So having left the year that one controversy began, he’s now stepping into a potential second one.
On Friday, a sternly worded external review criticized the U for having inadequate protections for its human research subjects. And later this month, the state legislative auditor is expected to release the results of his investigation into the 2004 suicide of a U of M clinical-drug-trial subject. It’s a case that has drawn unwanted international attention to the U, and it sparked Friday’s review.
(Concern over the U’s handling of test subjects was such Senate higher-education Chairwoman Terri Bonoff even tried to delay final section of regents until the legislative audit was released — saying she wanted to use the information to inform her choices — but was unsuccessful.)
So is Rosha ready to step into what could be rough patch?
“An institution of that complexity will have those issues,” he said. “It’s run by human beings with all the human frailties. It’s important for the board to take those things seriously in the interest of the state. So I’m not surprised that those things may arise from time to time, but I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. … I’ve read the media reports as anyone has, and [am] of course, concerned just as everyone else is.”