I predicted this

The president of the University of Minnesota, Joan Gabel, has decided to leave her $700,000/year position to get paid even more somewhere else. And no one wept.

However, now we begin the dance to hire a new overpaid administrator, and the first step is to hire an interim president for a year or so while we spend a lot of money wooing someone new. The Board of Regents presented us with a list of candidates, and I looked over that list with a cynical eye for the worst possible candidate, and predicted which one the regents would pick. Of course I was dead on.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents on Monday picked former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger to serve as interim president.

Ettinger is expected lead the U on a temporary basis while the Board of Regents searches for a new permanent president. The board looked for candidates for an interim who would not seek the position permanently.

Ten of the 12 board members voted for Ettinger, including Regent Mary Davenport.

“Ettinger is somebody from the outside, from a different point of view, a different walk in life who comes into higher education with some base knowledge, but brings something bigger,” Davenport said.

How could I know this was coming? Because I know our regents, and I just scanned the list for the businessman with no personal knowledge of academia.

Ettinger, who has a law degree, had the least amount of academic experience of the four finalists.

He told the board that his experience leading Hormel will translate well to the university.

Right. Hormel. The company that churns out processed meat, like Spam. Just like the university churns out meat for capitalism?

We’ll be rid of him soon enough, but we’re going to continue to be saddled with this inappropriate Board of Regents forever, and they’re going to pick the next president.

Maybe I’m being unfair. We just got a letter from the president of the board of regents, further explaining his background and experience.

Previously, he was the chief executive officer of the Hormel Foods Corporation in Austin, MN from 2005 to 2016. He ascended to CEO after 16 years with the company in roles including corporate attorney, treasurer and president of Jennie-O Turkey Store, Inc. in Willmar, MN.

Oh. President of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, you say? Eminently qualified to run an academic institution then.


  1. gijoel says

    Think of all the football scoreboards they could have built with that money. /s

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Vikings: “Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!
    (throws president overboard)

  3. lanir says

    Are your regents some sort of blowback from the 80’s? I thought we were well beyond fantasizing that management experience is magic and any sort of experience with bossing other people around means you’re fully qualified to do so in a large organization.

  4. says

    “Ettinger is somebody from the outside, from a different point of view, a different walk in life who comes into higher education with some base knowledge, but brings something bigger,” Davenport said.

    Yeah, that always worked for me when applying for jobs that I wasn’t qualified for.

  5. joel says

    MN’s governor is not an idiot. So why is the state board of regents full of idiots? Seriously asking.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Joel @ 6
    I do not know the process, but I suspect lobbying, nepotism and what the English call old-school networks play a role. Academia all over the world have those problems.

    Gedankenexperiment: if Al-Quaeda made a “decapitating” missile strike at regents and similar bodies of powerful persons, the outcome would not be nearly as devastating as they had hoped.

  7. whywhywhy says

    #6 My guess is that folks picked for serving on boards are picked as payback for helping to elect the folks picking the regents. These folks are generally wealthy and well connected politically. That is a pool of folks who raise money for political campaigns and are large donors themselves.

    Therefore, boards are composed of a bunch of rich folks who have a history of influencing our government for personal gain. The most likely exception is a retired coach from revenue generating teams (ie. the football coach). They have no understanding of or concern for academic endeavors. They do understand money and thus appreciate folks with histories of union busting, paying employees low wages, and their primary concern is hiring a President/Chancellor who is well connected to people with money (like themselves).

  8. ardipithecus says

    It doesn’t make sense, or appears to be foolish if one assumes that the primary purpose of a university is to educate students; but makes perfect sense if one assumes that the primary purpose of a university is to garner wealth and prestige. A president with a background in education might have a clouded vision.

  9. robro says

    Sometimes it may work. Many years ago Florida regents brought in an established business man as the president of the University of North Florida, one of my alma maters. A former literature professor of mine there, and a friend and poet, thought he did a good job of getting the university focused on the business of education.

  10. says

    Well, of course someone who was in charge of homogeneous spiced pork and ham product in cans, with an expiration date some time in the next millennium, is being put in charge of a state university system by a Board of Regents that secretly parties with a certain recent Secretary of Education and her cronies. Students are supposed to come off the production line, all the same, all ready to work as corporate drones, supervising the products of American public secondary-school education in their good factory jobs.


    Because nothing significant will ever change — “ability to manage” is universal, with a well-established curriculum, so this “well-rounded education” thing is not necessary in a public university system (any “real” education can be left for elite schools attended by the children of the right people). So, too, for “ability to market,” “ability to graft and otherwise solicit donations,” and “ability to schmooze with one’s betters while carefully ignoring the distressed ‘interns’ over in the corner.”

  11. strangerinastrangeland says

    Just curious, how and by whom are boards of regents (in general or specifically for the University of Minnesota) chosen / elected / anointed?

  12. jenorafeuer says

    @Pierce R. Butler:
    True, but that’s a bar so low as to be subterranean.

  13. drew says

    Is there seriously a problem with Tad and Bianca being admitted to UM Morris as legacies?

    I’m trying to imagine Revenge of the Nerds’ Alpha Betas and Omega Mus in rural Minnesota . . .