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Linda Cohen said she has been investigating the issue with university General Counsel Mark Rotenberg and believes the dual roles present a conflict of interest -- but the university is still investigating the issue.

U of M Board of Regents chair: Sviggum’s Senate job is a conflict

Steve Sviggum

Linda Cohen, chair of the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, says she believes Regent Steve Sviggum‘s new job as head of Senate Republican communications is a conflict of interest.

Cohen, who has been at battle with Sviggum in the media since his new job was announced in January, said she has been investigating the issue with university General Counsel Mark Rotenberg and believes the dual roles present a conflict.

“Based upon my understanding of his employment responsibilities, this position appears to me to constitute an employment-related conflict of interest with his duties as a regent,” Cohen wrote in a Friday news release. “The Code of Ethics policy is clear in stating that regents are expected to put aside parochial interests, keeping the welfare of the entire University, not just a particular constituency, at all times paramount.”

Cohen said she has asked Sviggum to abstain from voting at this month’s regents meeting, but the matter is still under consideration.

The university has retained attorney John Stout of  Fredrikson & Byron to draft an opinion by  Feb. 24, after which Cohen will either make a recommendation to the board or appoint a working group to further look into the issue.

“This is a complex and serious matter that warrants our careful review and due diligence,” Cohen wrote.  “It is important that we be objective, judicious, and fair and I believe this process lives up to those principles.”

This isn’t Sviggum’s first tangle with the university over conflict of interest. He stepped down from a job at the school’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs last year after it was deemed a conflict for him to be employed by the school while voting on issues as a regent.

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