History of the Board of Regents

The first Board of Regents was elected in February 1851 as part of the founding of the University. Until 1860, the Board consisted of 12 Regents elected by the legislature, as directed by the University Charter.

The 1860s marked a period of significant financial difficulties for the University. In 1861, the University suspended operations, and the legislature passed a law creating a temporary board of only three Regents: John Pillsbury (known today as the “father of the University”), O.C. Merriman, and John Nicols. Their main task was to eliminate the University’s significant debt – a goal achieved by 1867, when the University reorganized and reopened.

The Board gradually increased in size from three to seven members in 1868, nine in 1889, and 10 in 1923. Following the Minnesota Supreme Court's Chase decision in 1928, which reaffirmed the University’s constitutional autonomy from the State, the Board was restored to 12 members elected by the legislature.

Today, the Board of Regents remains a 12-member body elected during a joint convention of the Minnesota House and Senate. One member is elected from each of Minnesota's eight Congressional districts; four seats are at-large. Since 1976, one of the at-large seats has been held by a Regent who is a University of Minnesota student at the time of election.

Board of Regents Meeting, 1899
Board of Regents Meeting, 1899 

Important Firsts

  • Alice Warrent, 1922 – first female Regent 
  • Josie Johnson, 1971 – first African-American Regent
  • Michael Unger, 1976 – first to hold the at-large seat required to be a student 
  • Wenda Moore, 1977-1984 – first female Chair of the Board 
  • Hyon Kim, 1994 – first Asian-American Regent

Fun Facts

  • John Pillsbury is the only Regent made Regent for Life by the Minnesota Legislature.
  • Fred Snyder is the longest-serving Chair of the Board, serving from 1914 to 1950. 
  • Former Supreme Court Justice and professional football player Alan Page served on the Board from 1989 to 1993. 
  • William J. Mayo, one of the Mayo brothers and founders of the Mayo Clinic, served on the Board from 1907 to 1939. 
  • Regents have come from a variety of backgrounds - from farmers to governors, physicians to media executives, CEOs to teachers, legislators to entrepreneurs, and lawyers to lumber millers.

Additional Resources

Video: Almanac at the Capitol (aired May 1, 2019)
Video: Almanac at the Capitol (aired February 22, 2017)
Minnesota Legislature's History of Regent Elections
Historical List of Regents (PDF)
Historical List of Chairs of the Board of Regents (PDF)