DULUTH — A Duluth-area businessman and former University of Minnesota regent could soon temporarily head the University of Minnesota Duluth.
An 18-person committee of university staff and officials earlier this week “unanimously and enthusiastically” recommended David McMillan, a former longtime executive at Minnesota Power and its parent company, Allete, to be UMD’s interim chancellor. That recommendation is set to be considered by the broader university system’s board of regents at their meeting on Wednesday, July 13 .
McMillan resigned from the board of regents on June 14 to pursue the UMD job. He was the only applicant of six whom committee members selected for an interview, according to a July 6 letter they wrote to regents.
“No other candidate is more suitable for this interim role than Mr. McMillan,” committee members wrote. “His candidacy aligns well with the qualifications and personal characteristics identified in the position profile, which was informed by several listening sessions held in January and February with UMD students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as Duluth business, civic, and community leaders. Additionally, his qualifications and situation make him well suited for the short-term nature of the interim position.”
Search committee members said McMillan has a “strong business sense” in strategic planning, fiscal management and community relations, among other areas. They also approved of his strong ties to the Duluth region and UMD in particular that, they feel, would make him immediately ready to benefit the school. They also lauded McMillan’s emotional intelligence and willingness to collaborate, among other qualities.
“Mr. McMillan is the right leader at this time,” committee members wrote, “and he has our full endorsement and support to serve as UMD’s interim chancellor.”
Conflict of interest allegations
The decision on an interim chancellor would otherwise rest with Joan Gabel, the university system’s president who initially planned to select someone by the end of June. But Gabel stepped back from that amid claims of a quid pro quo between her and McMillan, who, while he was still on the board in December 2021, was one of nine regents who voted in favor of a hefty compensation increase for Gabel.
Gabel’s move put the decision partly in the hands of the committee, members of which interviewed McMillan late last month and forwarded his name for consideration on Wednesday, and partly in the hands of the regents, who are set to formally approve — or not approve — the committee’s recommendation next week.
In a June 22 campuswide letter , Gabel said she was available to consult with the search committee if they asked for it, but would not play “any role in their review of the applicants and their recommendation” to the regents.
McMillan strenuously denies that a deal for the interim job exists between him and Gabel.
“I have never been promised anything,” McMillan said Thursday. “I put my board of regents seat behind me and stepped up and took a swing here and we shall see what happens. But there was never, ever, ever, any quid pro quo. I find that set of words pretty disgusting, actually.”
Staff at Gabel’s office did not respond to a News Tribune request sent Thursday evening for an interview with Gabel.
Regardless, Darrin Rosha, another U of M regent, is skeptical.
“As a rule, members of boards of regents of regents or boards of trustees should not be converting that relationship into a compensated position,” Rosha said.
He noted that McMillan has no professional experience in academic administration and that the board’s code of conduct calls for members to avoid “actual individual or institutional conflicts of interest,” to disclose potential ones, and to “ensure personal relationships do not interfere with objective judgment in decisions” that would affect university employment.
“I don’t know if there was a pre-arranged arrangement,” Rosha said. “The bottom line is: The code of conduct and the history and responsibility of the board of regents is to avoid any circumstance that even raises the question of whether there is.”
He also pointed to a statement put forward by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni , a conservative-aligned nonprofit, that denounced McMillan’s actions and asserts that university governing boards’ responsibility to the public “stands above any other constituency and requires that a regent avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in carrying out his or her fiduciary obligations.”
Earlier search didn’t ‘yield’ a new chancellor
The search for an interim, rather than a more permanent, UMD chancellor is the result of a failed search earlier this year with a six-figure price tag. The same committee recommended four people to Gabel last spring, and university staff published the names and resumes of three of them shortly before each conducted an on-campus interview in April.
But Gabel announced in late May that the search had failed to “yield” a new chancellor at the school. It’s unclear, exactly, how that happened, and university officials haven’t disclosed many details.
Shortly after the failed search, university staff put together a form for UMD students, faculty, and staff to nominate someone to be the school’s interim chancellor, who’d hold the job for the next two years while school leaders conduct a second search during the 2023-2024 school year. That yielded 53 nominees, eight of whom applied for the job, according to university system staff.
If regents agree with the committee’s recommendation, McMillan would succeed Lendley Black, who’s been UMD’s chancellor since August 2010 and announced in November 2021 that he intended to retire from that post.
This article originally appeared here.