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Finalists for U of M regent have differing views of research centers

From the Rochester Post-Bulletin

By Heather J. Carlson Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN ST. PAUL -- Differences about research centers in communities outside the Twin Cities emerged Thursday between two finalists vying to represent southern Minnesota on the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents.

Lawmakers interviewed Dr. Patricia Simmons and Randy Simonson, candidates for the 1st Congressional District seat on the university's governing board.

Simmons, of Rochester, serves as the board's chairwoman and is completing a six-year term. Simmons is a physician and professor of pediatrics at Mayo Medical School. Simonson, of Worthington, Minn., is CEO of Newport Laboratories, a biotechnology company focused on agriculture.

Austin Rep. Jeanne Poppe, a Democrat, asked the candidates what role they see the university playing in maintaining and growing research centers like the Hormel Institute in Austin and the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minn.

Simmons said she is a strong supporter of these centers and sees them as important to the state's economy. She pointed to the connections being fostered between the Hormel Institute, Mayo Clinic, the university and its local extension office.

"They definitely feed on each other and I think the sustainability and growth is heightened because of that type of relationship. It's critical for the university to be all around the state," she said.

Simonson said he is concerned about redundancies in the university system and would like to take a closer look at some of these regional centers.

"I don't know about these facilities whether they are cost-effective. I would like to see a study of that," he said.

If elected, Simonson said he would like to see the university refocus on its original mission as a land-grant university. He said he wants to make sure the school remains affordable and he would not support a tuition increase. He said it is also important to look at ways the university can help boost the state's economy through its research and discoveries.

Simmons agreed that keeping higher education affordable is key. However, she said it is likely there will be a need to raise tuition this year because of cuts in state funding.

What's next?

A joint legislative committee meets Tuesday to select candidates to nominate for the four seats on the Board of Regents. A joint convention of the Legislature will decide which candidates to appoint.

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