Candidates running to fill two seats on the University of Michigan Board of Regents presented their views during a forum Monday, and topics ranged from tuition and cost containment to whether U-M should rehang its Final Four banners from the Fab Five era.
Five of the 10 people seeking eight-year terms in the Nov. 8 election appeared at the forum, sponsored by the Senate Assembly, to outline their candidacies and answer questions from the faculty governance group and other audience members.
Participating in the 90-minute discussion were incumbent Democrats Regent Laurence B. Deitch and Regent Denise Ilitch, Republicans Carl Meyers and Ron Weiser, and Libertarian John Jascob.
Not participating were Libertarian candidate James Lewis Hudler, U.S. Taxpayers Party candidates Audra Driscoll and Richard A. Hewer, Natural Law Party candidate Bridgette Abraham-Guzman, and Green Party candidate Latham Redding.
Much of the discussion — during opening statements and the question-and-answer session — revolved around ways to deal with the increasing cost of attending the university, whether it be holding down tuition, finding new revenue sources or cutting costs.
Deitch said he supports a funding model that uses high tuition balanced with high levels of financial aid, but that the main driver of tuition increases is the long-term disinvestment by the state in higher education. “What we all ought to do is link arms and say enough is enough,” said Deitch, who is seeking his fourth term on the board.
Ilitch, who is seeking her second term as a regent, said increasing reliance on tuition hinders economic and racial diversity. She wants U-M to create a task force that will look for alternative revenue sources. “To me, I don’t believe the (current) model is sustainable over a long period of time.,” she said.
Meyers said he believes many low-income students may be prepared for U-M but don’t apply because they can’t afford it. And, he said, often financial aid that is available comes with a part-time job. “I think it’s disingenuous to bring an underrepresented minority into the University of Michigan and offer them financial aid that also has the job component,” Meyers said.
“They’ve got to work 15, 20, 25 hours a week. It’s not fair when the kid who maybe comes from Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, L.A. or Connecticut doesn’t have to work at all, so automatically you put him at a competitive disadvantage.”
Weiser proposed a system under which tuition would be guaranteed for students, as long as they remained in school through graduation. Tuition rates may increase for each new class, “but once they come in I believe they should have the same tuition.” He also said costs could be lowered by shrinking bureaucracy, “and that is something I think any institution can do.”
Jascob agreed that increasing costs hurt efforts to create a diverse student body, and sees opportunities in using technology and distance-learning programs to deliver education at a lower cost.
“I dearly love university life … but I think technology does offer some possibilities in terms of what we can do to reduce costs,” he said. “Technology is not the answer for everything but it does offer some means. You can have incredible student-faculty interactions with some of the platforms that are available.”
All five of the candidates agreed that U-M should rehang the Fab Five banners that had been removed from Crisler Arena — now Crisler Center — nearly 24 years ago as a self-imposed sanction after it was revealed booster Ed Martin had given money to members of the basketball team in violation of NCAA rules.
Deitch and Jascob added that returning the banners to Crisler should be accompanied by a broader discussion about the role of athletics in higher education, and the contributions that are made by student athletes.
The candidates differed when asked whether the faculty should have “a seat at the table” during regent meetings.
Giving faculty a vote on the board would require a state constitutional amendment, which none seemed to endorse. But Weiser, Ilitch and Jascob said they would support some sort of ex officio role for faculty or student representatives. Meyers didn’t endorse the ex officio option, but said he would like more transparency in board decisions, while Deitch said the current system works “and I wouldn’t change it.”
During his opening remarks, Weiser criticized Deitch for recent comments to The Michigan Daily that Weiser’s political views were fundamentally “incompatible” with the university. Weiser interpreted the remarks as attacking him for “Trumpism,” and said they were divisive and didn’t belong in the Board of Regents race.
“I looked up Trumpism: a divisive promotion of nationalism, anti-globalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. These are views I find despicable,” Weiser said. “As for divisiveness, I’ve always worked with the people of both parties for the common good. … The Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia includes an Islamic studies program, which has been part of it for three years.”
Deitch later responded that he respects Weiser’s political service as U.S. ambassador to Slovakia and appreciates the generosity he has shown in his gifts to U-M.
“What I was referring to was your role as national vice chair of the Trump campaign, because what I have seen from Trump is bigotry, misogyny, racism, xenophobia and a profound lack of respect for our American institutions,” Deitch said. “When I referred to Trumpism as being antithetical to our university values, I was referring to the things I just articulated.”
Weiser said that while he is vice chair of the Republican National Committee’s Victory Fund, which raises money for a wide variety of GOP candidates, he is not vice chair of Donald Trump’s campaign.
In other action at Monday’s Senate Assembly meeting, members voted unanimously to authorize the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, in collaboration with faculty governance bodies at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn, to create and charge a six-member task force on faculty governance at the three campuses.
The task force has been sought to undertake an assessment of tri-campus faculty governance relationships. The resolution passed Monday calls for the task force to present its recommendations at the April 2017 Senate Assembly meeting.