Legislature picks 4 new University of Minnesota regents, including nurse union leader, ex-health CEO

Interim board member Tadd Johnson, a former University of Minnesota Duluth graduate studies director, was elected to a full term. Johnson is the first Native American regent.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, preside over a joint conference of the House and Senate Monday, May 1. The chambers had a joint meeting to nominate four new members to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Hortman sits at the chair centered behind the rostrum, with Champion sitting in the chair to the left.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Monday night, May 1, elected four new members to the University of Minnesota system’s governing board, a body that sets policies and tuition at five campuses.

Newly elected members of the UMN Board of Regents include a nurse union leader, a former health care company CEO and a West St. Paul city council member who works with the AFL-CIO.

Interim board member Tadd Johnson, a former University of Minnesota Duluth graduate studies director, was elected to a full term. Johnson is the first Native American regent.

The Board of Regents controls policy, curriculum, tuition and fees for the University of Minnesota’s campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester and the Twin Cities. It also manages all university lands.

Each odd-numbered year, all 201 members of the state House and Senate come together to elect one-third of the 12-member board to a six-year unpaid term. One member comes from each of the state’s eight congressional districts and four represent the state at large.


The four members approved Monday were nominated in March by a joint 19-member committee of the Senate and House. The Regent Candidate Advisory Committee reviews candidates for nomination and refers them to lawmakers, but lawmakers can still introduce nominees at any point.

Two of the nominees were the only ones up for a vote Monday night. But Republican lawmakers introduced two nominees on the floor to oppose members backed by Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers in the committee nomination process — former Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler and Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner.

8th District

File: Tadd Johnson.JPG
Tadd Johnson, senior director of American Indian tribal relations and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
Tyler Schank / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

Johnson will continue holding the 8th Congressional District seat. He has been serving on the Board of Regents since 2022 when Gov. Tim Walz appointed him to replace David McMillan, who left the position to serve as interim chancellor of UMD.

He was nominated and elected to a full term with widespread bipartisan support.

Johnson is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. He once served as UMN’s Senior Director of American Indian Tribal Nations Relations.

2nd District

Robyn Gulley, the West St. Paul council member and local training specialist with the AFL-CIO, will replace Regent Steve Sviggum, who came under fire last fall for his comments suggesting campus diversity could be hurting enrollment at the University of Minnesota Morris. Days later, Sviggum resigned as vice chair of the board and said he would leave the board at the end of his term in 2023.

Gulley pledged to fight for affordable tuition and campus safety, the Pioneer Press previously reported .


3rd Congressional District

Mary Turner speaks at a podium
Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, speaks at a news conference asking Essentia to respect nurses labor union rights March 30, 2022, at the Duluth Labor Temple.
Laura Butterbrodt / 2022 File / Duluth News Tribune

Turner, the nurses association president, will serve as the 3rd Congressional District’s regent. The Minnesota Nurses Association represents 22,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals.

Turner said she supports making school more affordable for Minnesota residents, the Pioneer Press previously reported.

Republicans nominated former Gopher football player and businessman William Humphries ahead of the floor vote. Turner ultimately prevailed.

At large

Former Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler, center, watches from the House gallery Monday night, May 1, as members of the Minnesota House and Senate vote on new regents for the University of Minnesota.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Legislators elected former Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler to the at large district. She told members of the joint higher education committee that she would be a good fit for the job as Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services consider a merger, the Pioneer Press reported in March .

Minnesota-based Fairview is tied to the university’s teaching hospital and other academic health assets. Many have raised questions about what would happen to those assets if South Dakota-based Sanford took over.

Wheeler also faced a challenge from GOP lawmakers during the joint floor session Monday night. Republicans nominated University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Student Body President Flora Yang. Wheeler prevailed in that vote.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email .

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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