DULUTH — A retired utility executive who resigned from the University of Minnesota Board of Regents last week to pursue the top job at the system’s Duluth campus strenuously denied Friday that he has a quid pro quo with Joan Gabel, the system president.
David McMillan was in the majority in December on a 9-2 vote to award Gabel a new five-year contract that could pay her up to $1.1 million in total compensation next year.
It’s up to Gabel to pick Duluth’s interim chancellor after an initial search failed to find Lendley Black’s successor.
McMillan, who held C-suite positions at Minnesota Power and its parent company, Allete, until 2018, told the News Tribune he tried to be as transparent as possible when he put himself in the running for interim chancellor.
“I don’t see it,” McMillan said of a quid pro quo. “The president owes me nothing. I owe the president nothing, and I’m ready for whatever decision she wants to make.”
After the failed chancellor search last month, university staff solicited nominations for an interim chancellor through June 3 and real-deal applications for the job through Wednesday.
Whoever Gabel chooses would hold the Duluth job for two years, the plan goes, and university leaders plan to search again for a permanent chancellor during the 2023-24 school year. Gabel’s expected to make the decision by the end of June.
“Although interim appointments do not require nominations or community engagement nor a Board of Regents vote under University policy, President Gabel welcomes community input and support for potential candidates,” university staff wrote to the News Tribune and other outlets this week. “She also intends to seek a public Board vote for whomever is recommended as the interim Chancellor.”
McMillan resigned from his unpaid position on the Board of Regents the day before the Wednesday application deadline, saying in a letter to Gov. Tim Walz that he intended to formally apply for the interim job and understands that he can’t pursue it while also serving as a regent.
“I believe my higher calling is to pursue this transitional leadership opportunity at UMD,” McMillan wrote.
Arne Carlson, the former governor of Minnesota, told KSTP-TV he was “stunned” and that there appears to be a “very shabby form” of a quid pro quo in place. He called for an audit of McMillan’s nomination and application and of the board’s power structure. Regent Darrin Rosha asked Gabel for an explanation of McMillan’s nomination and application, the TV station reported.
McMillan said he decided to apply the weekend before the deadline after hearing from several people who either said they wanted to nominate him for the job or already had done so.
“I didn’t go looking for this,” McMillan said. “I’m not in this to line my pockets, make a bunch of money. It’s not why I’m back here. I stepped down from the board and put my name in the ring because I care deeply about UMD.”
There was no similar push for him to apply for the chancellor job when the university was searching for a more permanent occupant earlier this year, McMillan said. Although he considered the job, he still had several months left on his Board of Regents term and had never held an administrative position in higher education. The job wasn’t in his “wheelhouse” at the time, McMillan said.
He applied for the interim job, though, because UMD is in the midst of a leadership “challenge.“
“UMD needs someone who wouldn’t necessarily need time getting acclimated to the school,” he said. “I come knowing the stakeholders, internal and external. I know the donor community. I know the research strengths. I know the academic strengths. That stuff is second nature to me now. I think I have another leadership turn in me.”
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