University Of Minnesota President Resigns Over Mansion Controversy
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The University of Minnesota’s president has resigned, citing controversy over the $1.5 million renovation of his official residence, Eastcliff, and the $200,000 remodeling of his campus office suite.
″Over the past few weeks, you and I have lived with stories about Eastcliff renovations and repairs,″ Kenneth Keller, president for three years, told a news conference Sunday night at the 55,000-student Big 10 school.
″The stories have not been good ones,″ he said. ″I bear a key responsibility for it. ... I am profoundly embarrassed and profoundly sorry for it.″
After repeated assertions recently that he planned to stay in office, Keller, 53, said he now believes he cannot overcome the controversy. He said he was informing the university’s Board of Regents he would step aside as soon as they arrange for an interim replacement.
The regents never gave formal approval for the mansion renovation, which was orginally supposed to cost $400,000, a recent report by the legislative auditor’s office said.
The report said the involvement of Keller and his wife, university attorney Bonita Sindelir, in the renovation led to some of the additional costs.
Among the most embarrassing expenditures were those for a mahogany desk and credenza for Keller’s office that the legislative auditor said cost $17,445. Keller has offered to pay for the office furniture.
″I have said recently that I thought I could learn from the mistakes of Eastcliff, improve the management of the university where it’s needed, and get on with the important job of completing ’Commitment to Focus,‴ Keller told the news conference Sunday night.
″Commitment to Focus″ is Keller’s controversial $35.2 million plan to improve the quality of the university while reducing undergraduate enrollment.
″I have also said that if I felt my presence would hurt more than help in accomplishing that task I would step aside,″ he said, adding, ″As painful as it is for me to say, I now believe that to be the case.″
After he read a brief statement, Keller left without responding to questions.
Regent Chairman David Lebedoff and Gov. Rudy Perpich were expected to comment on Keller’s announcement today, spokesmen said Sunday night.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, quoting sources it did not name in today’s editions, said Perpich and Keller met privately Sunday for about 90 minutes and that Perpich had indicated before the meeting that he was prepared to ask Keller to step down.
Perpich spokeswoman Patrice Vick would confirm only that a meeting occurred.
According to the newspaper’s sources, Perpich was highly irritated when he learned last week that the university had amassed a reserve fund of more than $50 million.
Keller’s critics in the Legislature called it a ″slush fund.″
Legislative auditors who revealed the existence of the $50 million fund said it was under the control of Keller and other top university officials and that some of the money was used on the house renovation without approval of the Board of Regents.
Spending on the mansion was revealed in news media reports in early February. Keller then went to Hawaii on a vacation, angering lawmakers who thought he should have stayed available to answer questions about the remodeling.
Keller, a New York City native, came to the university in 1964 as an assistant professor in chemical engineering and materials science, and became a department head in 1979.