By Danielle Nordine
A tearful Steve Sviggum resigned from the University of Minnesota’s governing board Thursday, denying to the end that his job for state Senate Republicans creates a conflict of interest.
The full board of regents unanimously approved a resolution suggested by a board committee asking the former House speaker to choose between his two positions because of the conflict.
“I have before me two choices: I have the choice of confrontation and I have the choice of cooperation,” Sviggum said.
He said he would resign, if asked, for the good of the board, the university and the state.
Sviggum, a Kenyon Republican, maintained that he sees no conflict in being a regent while also serving as a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. He has said he makes no decisions in his GOP position as an aide and communications director for Senate Republicans.
“There is no conflict…” Sviggum told the board. “Sometimes, members, the facts don’t matter anymore. I’m very comfortable with the facts.”
Board Chairwoman Linda Cohen of Minnetonka obtained two separate legal opinions, one from university counsel and one from outside the school, that stated there was a conflict of interest. Sviggum’s attorney issued an opinion with the opposite finding.
Cohen had said she was concerned because Sviggum appeared to be mixing politics with university governance.
“It’s not about the person, it’s about the conflict between the jobs,” regent Clyde Allen of Moorhead said.
Regent Venora Hung of Golden Valley said the move “is not to me a personal attack on anybody.”
After the meeting, Cohen said she was not surprised by Sviggum’s offer to resign in light of the board’s decision.
“I was not overly concerned he would try to keep both positions,” she said.
Cohen said she was satisfied with how the group came to its conclusion.
“It was a very judicious process we have taken,” she said. “I had a lot of confidence in our process.”
The state Legislature will be responsible for filling the position, Cohen said. That could happen quickly, perhaps in time for the next regents’ meeting in May, she said.
Sviggum became emotional during Thursday’s meeting as he thanked those board members that had reached out to him last week. He said the experience has been difficult.
“This hurts bad,” Sviggum said. “My reputation means a lot to me.”
Sviggum gave his speech to the board and then left before discussion and the vote without further comment.
When he was appointed a regent last year, Sviggum worked at the university, which was found to be in violation of rules that prohibited university employees from sitting on the board. He left the university job for the regent position.