- Austen Hufford/Daily
By Austen Hufford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 22, 2012
About 50 members of the University’s Senate Assembly gathered at their monthly meeting to question candidates for the University’s Board of Regents at a forum held in Palmer Commons Monday afternoon.
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Candidates discussed a wide range of topics, including whether the University’s focus should be on research or teaching, the number out-of-state students at the University, tuition hikes and the role of athletics at the University.
While there are 10 candidates running for positions on the board, only four attended the forum: Republican Rob Steele, Democrats Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs, and Eric Borregard, the Green Party’s candidate. The group was presented with a question and each candidate was allowed one minute to answer. Due to the format of the event, candidates did not get a chance to respond to each other.
Each was quick to highlight their connection to the University: Steele, Bernstein and Diggs are all alumni, and Borregard said his son attended the University.
The candidates acknowledged that one of the most important responsibilities as regent would be to select the University’s next president, as University President Mary Sue Coleman plans to retire in 2014.
They discussed how the new president should balance the diverse needs of the University and successfully manage the ever-changing budget. Steele said the new president must also provide creative solutions for declining state and federal budget appropriations, while Diggs said he or she must also lead by consensus and encourage efficiency to conserve the University’s resources.
Bernstein said the next president must address the transformative changes in education over the next several years, such as digitization and costs.
“There are going to be some universities that get this right, that figure this out; and those Universities are going to thrive and succeed,” Bernstein said, referring to the upcoming changes. “There will be others that won’t and those universities will pay a very, very steep price.”
Borregard said honesty and awareness of environmental issues should be key characteristics of Coleman’s successor.
Borregard, who referred to his own Green Party as “essentially socialist,” had unorthodox views throughout the forum, a fact acknowledged by the other candidates and the audience by occasional laughing and joking about his answers. Borregard used his time to discuss his desire for free tuition and highlighted the importance he placed on environmental consciousness at the University.
When it came to tuition, Steele, Bernstein and Diggs supported using the University’s endowment to reduce tuition costs. Steele suggested using the endowment rather than federal funds to help pay for student loans, and proposed creating a program where science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors who stay in Michigan for five years could receive tuition reimbursements.
Bernstein proposed using the University’s high credit rating and the endowment’s appreciation to fund low-rate student loans rather than actual endowment funding.
Diggs said the state must be held accountable for its funding promises and suggested the creation of endowment funds specifically directed toward student tuition.
“We can also have restricted funds for student tuition,” Diggs said. “We need to go to our donors, to our largest alumni group, and ask them to give money specifically to student grants — not loans, not scholarships, but grants.”
The candidates differed starkly on the importance of increased diversity, among both students and employees, and whether to grant undocumented residents in-state tuition.
Bernstein said he fought against 2006’s Proposal 2 — which banned the use of race in public university admissions in Michigan — and vowed to make diversity a priority by using geography and socioeconomic class to increase diversity.