Local View: McMillan a well-informed transitional leader for UMD

From the column: "It will take a talented leader to build on UMD’s goldilocks combination of human scale, academic and athletic excellence, and vibrant student life."

David McMillan.jpeg
David McMillan
We are part of The Trust Project.

Retiring Chancellor Lynn Black admirably and expertly led the University of Minnesota Duluth for a dozen years and set a very high standard for his replacement. Coverage in the June 18 News Tribune provided helpful perspective for those who have not followed the process that University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel employed to identify the next leader for UMD.

It will take a talented leader to build on UMD’s goldilocks combination of human scale, academic and athletic excellence, and vibrant student life. Unfortunately, the initial search did not yield a new long-term chancellor, and investing more time to recast the search will be worthwhile.

In our view, President Gabel has done the right thing by immediately seeking a capable short-term replacement. This is a critical moment of transition, and UMD must emerge intact and prepared to move forward with its next long-term leader.

Those of us co-signing this have deep ties to Duluth and UMD. We and others in the community asked David McMillan to apply for the interim leadership role. The interim chancellor position offers much more challenge than prize, and we knew our request represented a personal sacrifice. We asked because we admire David’s ethics and integrity and trust his judgment and his commitment to UMD’s best interests.

McMillan recently resigned as university regent for the 8th Congressional District, stepping forward in a way that was transparent and honorable. We think his kind of generous civic leadership should be celebrated, and we sincerely thank David for making himself available.


McMillan was first elected to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in 2011 and served as its chair from 2017 to 2019. He has earned wide respect and goodwill throughout his private-sector career at Allete and service as board chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute, the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, and Goodwill Industrial Vocational Enterprises — and as a board member for the DECC and St. Luke's Hospital. He is a 30-years-plus Duluth-area resident, and he, his grandparents, father, wife, and children are all UMD alumni.

UMD’s wonderfully talented faculty and staff, its exceptional students, and its world-class campus, academic programs, and research endeavors deserve the complete support of this community, this region, and this state. Students return to campus in just over a month. As leaders in Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota, we know what UMD means to the city, region, and state. We cannot afford delays and detours that create a gap in UMD-centric advocacy.

We are fortunate to have in David McMillan a well-informed, willing, and able candidate. If chosen, he will be an effective transitional leader and enable UMD to look ahead with optimism and confidence.

ABOUT THIS COMMENTARY: This commentary was signed and submitted by Rebecca Covington of Minneapolis, a prospect development analyst for Regions Hospital in St. Paul and a past member of the Regent Candidate Advisory Committee; Mark Emmel of Duluth, president of the Lion Hotel Group, past DECC board president, past board chair for St. Luke’s Hospital, and past board chair for APEX; Mark Labovitz of Minneapolis, CEO of Labovitz Enterprises and a member of both the UMD Chancellor’s Advisory Council and UMD LSBE Dean's Business Advisory Council; Don Ness of Duluth, executive director of the Ordean Foundation, a member of the UMD Chancellor Advisory Committee, and former mayor of Duluth; Yvonne Prettner Solon of Iron River, former Minnesota lieutenant governor, former Minnesota state senator representing Duluth, former Duluth city councilor, and a member of the UMD Chancellor Advisory Committee; Dan Russell of Duluth, retired former executive director of the DECC; Bruce Stender of Duluth, retired former president of the Lion Hotel Group and College of St. Scholastica, a trustee for the Blandin Foundation, a board member for Allete, and a member of the UMD Chancellor’s Advisory Council; and George Sundstrom of French River, a retired union sheet metal worker and a past member of the Regent Candidate Advisory Committee.

What to read next
From the column: "Pictures of the Nazi carnage changed the narrative about the Nazis. We need to see what the weapons of war do to children and innocents."
"An 80 mph wind ripped through our farmstead near Larimore, North Dakota, toppling trees, some of which landed in inopportune places."
From the column: "None of this (military spending) seems to have made the world any safer — and, unlike the Webb telescope, it’s not very inspiring, either."
From the column: "Aside from the eventual scientific and economic spinoffs, simply better knowing our place in the universe cannot be measured in dollars."