Cynthia H. Wilbanks, who has served as the University of Michigan’s vice president for government relations for 22 years, will retire at year’s end. She shared the news with colleagues this week.
Wilbanks, a U-M alumna, directs the university’s government relations efforts at the local, state and federal levels. She also serves as special adviser to President Mark Schlissel on the development and growth of the University Research Corridor as well as non-research based external economic development activities.
“It’s been an incredible privilege to work with the leadership of U-M, across the institution and across the state, to expand and promote the impact of this university on the people of our great state,” Wilbanks said.
“It has also been an honor to work with so many others in higher education and with those in local, state and federal government to expand the reach of U-M and to help improve the lives of state residents.”
Her responsibilities as vice president include planning and developing the institution’s response to proposed legislation, developing and maintaining effective relationships with governmental agencies and officials, and analyzing and assessing legislative, administrative and regulatory activities as they pertain to university programs, activities and operations. State outreach activities, and the Economic Growth Institute also report to her.
Wilbanks has led U-M’s involvement in the creation of the University Research Corridor, a consortium of Michigan’s three research universities: U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. She co-led the effort to host a presidential debate on the Ann Arbor campus, and she has facilitated the university’s growing footprint in the city of Detroit.
Schlissel said Wilbanks has left an enduring imprint on the university, the state and all of higher education.
“In my view, her vast knowledge of our state, its issues, history, people and, of course, those elected to serve is unparalleled. Cynthia has always applied her keen understanding when advocating for our students, faculty and staff in city hall, Lansing, Congress or the White House,” he said.
Her early announcement gives the university ample time to find a successor, a process that will be shared in the coming months, the president said.
Wilbanks is currently the longest-serving executive officer. She has decades of public service experience, having served as district director for U.S. Rep. Carl D. Pursell from 1979-92, Washtenaw County field representative for Pursell from 1977-79, and staff assistant for U.S. Rep. Marvin Esch from 1973-76. She ran for U.S. Congress from Michigan’s 13th District in 1994.
In addition, she has been an active member of the community for decades, serving nonprofit organizations in leadership roles throughout her career. She was president of Michigan’s Children, a statewide child advocacy organization in 1993-95, prior to joining the U-M staff in 1995 as associate vice president for university relations, where she was responsible for state government relations. She was appointed vice president for government relations in the fall of 1998.
Her other university leadership activities include service on the Bentley Historical Library Executive Committee, Bicentennial Planning Committee, Ginsberg Center Board, Hospital and Health Centers Executive Board, Honorary Degree Committee, Michigan in Washington Program Faculty Advisory Committee and the Residency Appeals Committee.
She also has served in several interim roles, as interim vice president for communications in 2007, and as interim vice president for development in 2002-03. Wilbanks earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a secondary teaching certificate from U-M.