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Former U of M regent denies UMD chancellor application quid pro quo

Dave McMillan, a retired utility executive, resigned from the Board of Regents this week to pursue the University of Minnesota Duluth’s interim chancellor job.

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Dave McMillan
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DULUTH — A retired utility executive who resigned from the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents this week to vie for a temporary job at the helm of the system’s Duluth school strenuously denied on Friday that he has a quid pro quo with Joan Gabel, the system president. Her lucrative new employment contract was approved by the regents last year and she would have the final word on the Duluth job.

Dave McMillan, who held C-suite positions at Minnesota Power and its parent company, Allete, until 2018, told the News Tribune he tried to be as transparent as possible when he put himself in the running for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s interim chancellor job.

“I don’t see it,” McMillan said of a quid pro quo. “The president owes me nothing. I owe the president nothing, and I’m ready for whatever decision she wants to make.”

Whoever Gabel picks for the interim gig would succeed UMD Chancellor Lendley Black, who announced in November that he planned to retire from his post.

In December, McMillan and other regents voted 9-2 to ink a new contract with Gabel that increases her base salary from $640,000 to $660,000; guarantees annual raises of at least 3%; significantly boosts contributions to her retirement plan; and gives the board’s chair the option to pay her further performance bonuses of $50,000 this fiscal year and $100,000 each year after that until the agreement expires in June 2026.

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Gabel, meanwhile, is at the forefront of the search for the new administrative head at UMD. An initial search came up empty last month, and university staff solicited nominations for an interim chancellor through June 3 and real-deal applications for the job until Wednesday.

Staff are accepting nominations for the school's interim head through June 3.

Whoever Gabel chooses would hold the Duluth job for two years, the plan goes, and university leaders plan to search again for a longer-term chancellor during the 2023-24 school year. She’s expected to make the decision by the end of June.

“Although interim appointments do not require nominations or community engagement nor a Board of Regents vote under University policy, President Gabel welcomes community input and support for potential candidates,” university staff wrote to the News Tribune and other outlets this week. “She also intends to seek a public Board vote for whomever is recommended as the interim Chancellor.”

McMillan resigned from the board the day before the Wednesday application deadline, saying in a letter to Gov. Tim Walz that he intended to formally apply for the interim job and understands that he can’t pursue it while also serving as a regent.

“I believe my higher calling is to pursue this transitional leadership opportunity at UMD,” McMillan wrote.

Arne Carlson, the former governor of Minnesota, told Twin Cities TV station KSTP that he was “stunned” and that there appears to be a “very shabby form” of a quid pro quo in place. He called for an audit of McMillan’s nomination and application as well as the board’s power structure. Darrin Rosha, an extant member of the Board of Regents, asked Gabel for an explanation of McMillan’s nomination and application, KSTP reported.

McMillan claimed he decided to throw his hat into the ring the weekend before the deadline after hearing from several people who either said they wanted to nominate him for the job or had already done so. Word of his decision made its way to news outlets earlier this week after McMillan told other regents about it on Tuesday.

“I didn’t go looking for this,” McMillan said. “I’m not in this to line my pockets, make a bunch of money. It’s not why I’m back here. I stepped down from the board and put my name in the ring because I care deeply about UMD.”

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There was not a similar push for him to apply for the chancellor job when the university was searching for a more permanent occupant earlier this year, McMillan claimed. He said he considered the job, but still had several months left on his Board of Regents term at the time and had never held an administrative position in higher education before. The job wasn’t in his “wheelhouse” at the time, McMillan said.

He applied for the interim job, though, because UMD is in the midst of a leadership “challenge.“

"I wouldn’t call it a leadership crisis” — and UMD needs someone who wouldn’t necessarily need time getting acclimated to the school," he said. “I come knowing the stakeholders, internal and external. I know the donor community. I know the research strengths. I know the academic strengths. That stuff is second nature to me now. I think I have another leadership turn in me.”

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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