DULUTH, Minnesota — A Duluth-area entrepreneur and former University of Minnesota regent may soon be able to temporarily head the University of Minnesota Duluth.
An 18-person committee of university officials and staff 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. This recommendation should be considered by the Board of Regents of the wider university system at its meeting on Wednesday, July 13th.
McMillan resigned from the Board of Regents on June 14 to pursue UMD’s work. He was the only candidate out of six that committee members selected for an interview, according to a July 6 letter they wrote to the regents.
“No other candidate is better suited for this interim position than Mr. McMillan,” the committee members wrote. “Your application aligns well with the qualifications and personal characteristics identified in the job profile, which was informed by several listening sessions held in January and February with UMD students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as business, civic and and communities of Duluth. 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, tax management and community relations, among other areas. They also approved of his strong ties to the Duluth region and UMD in particular which they felt would immediately set him ready to benefit the school. They also praised McMillan’s emotional intelligence and willingness to collaborate, among other qualities.
“Sir. McMillan is the right leader at this point,” the committee members wrote, “and he has our full endorsement and support to serve as interim chancellor of UMD.”
ALLEGATIONS OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The decision on an interim chancellor would rest with Joan Gabel, president of the university system that initially planned to select someone by the end of June. But Gabel dropped that amid claims of a quid pro quo between her and McMillan, who, while still on the board in December 2021, was one of nine regents who voted in favor of a substantial increase in Gabel’s pay.
Gabel’s decision placed the decision partly in the hands of the committee, whose members interviewed McMillan late last month and forwarded his name for consideration on Wednesday, and partly in the hands of the regents, who must formally approve – or not approve – the committee recommendation next week.
In a June 22 letter to the entire campus, Gabel said he was available to consult with the search committee if they asked, but would play “no role in reviewing candidates and recommending” to regents.
McMillan vehemently denies that an interim work agreement exists between him and Gabel.
“I was never promised anything,” McMillan said on Thursday. “I put my seat on the Board of Regents behind me and I walked over and took a swing here and we’ll see what happens. But there was never, ever, ever any quid pro quo. I find that set of words quite disgusting, actually.”
Staff at Gabel’s office did not respond to a request from the Forum News Service for an interview with Gabel.
Regardless, Darrin Rosha, another U of M conductor, is skeptical.
“As a rule, members of boards of regents or boards of trustees should not convert this relationship into a paid position,” Rosha said.
He noted that McMillan has no professional experience in academic management and that the board’s code of conduct requires members to avoid “actual individual or institutional conflicts of interest,” disclose potentials, and “ensure that 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 agreement,” 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 raises the question of whether it exists.”
He also pointed to a statement presented by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative-leaning non-profit organization, which denounced McMillan’s actions and asserts that the university’s boards of directors’ responsibility to the public “is above all else.” another constituency and requires a regent to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in discharging his fiduciary obligations”.
EARLY RESEARCH WITHOUT FRUIT
The search for a temporary UMD chancellor, rather than a more permanent one, 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 officials published the names and résumés of three of them shortly before each held an on-campus interview in April.
But Gabel announced in late May that the search had not “yielded” a new chancellor at the school. It’s unclear exactly how this happened, and university officials haven’t released many details.
Shortly after the failed search, university staff prepared a form for UMD students, faculty and staff to nominate someone to be the school’s interim chancellor, who would hold the position for the next two years while school leaders conduct a second search during the year 2023. -2024 school year. That yielded 53 candidates, eight of whom applied for the position, according to university system officials.
If the regents agree with the committee’s recommendation, McMillan will succeed Lendley Black, who has been chancellor of UMD since August 2010 and announced in November 2021 that he intended to retire from that position.