U of M regents committee begins conflict of interest investigation

An ad hoc committee made up of three members of the University of Minnesota's board of regents began an investigation today into whether Steve Sviggum's position on the board represents a conflict of interest.

Sviggum, a former Speaker of the Minnesota House, is also a lecturer and fundraiser at the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Sviggum has taught at the U since 2007, but signed a new contract just a few weeks before lawmakers appointed him to the board of regents.  It expanded his role to include fundraising and writing opinion articles.  The job pays $80,000 a year.

The concern for some regents is that Sviggum's two positions put him in an ethical gray area.  According to the regents' code of ethics, members can't vote on issues where they have a financial interest. As an employee of the U, Sviggum would likely need to recuse himself from votes on everything from the U's budget to labor issues.

The ad hoc committee, made up of board chair Regent Clyde Allen, Regent Linda Cohen and Regent Patricia Simmons, met for the first time today.  Regent Sviggum joined the group by phone.  He told the committee he could serve both as a regent and an instructor without conflict.

But Regent Allen said his concern, the same concern he's heard from the public, is that Sviggum can't serve on the board and teach at the U without running into some sort of conflict.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

"We have not made that judgement yet.  I emphasize that," Allen said. " But the public perception is that the two things are incompatible."

If the committee determines there is a conflict of interest, a few options are likely to emerge.

They could include asking Sviggum to choose between his position on the board or his teaching position at the U.  It could also mean the regents allow Sviggum to serve on the board and teach, but devise a plan to manage any conflicts of interest.

Originally the committee planned to discuss the case, and announce their conclusions this week. Now they've put a decision off until next week.

A special meeting of the full board of regents will convene March 31 to take up any recommendations by the ad hoc committee.