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Three candidates running for the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents spoke at a public forum held on Zoom Friday morning to discuss their platforms ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
The candidates discussed the University’s COVID-19 response, tuition increases, sexual misconduct investigations and systemic racism, among other issues.
The election will fill two open seats on the board. Incumbent Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) was joined by three-time candidate Carl Meyers (R) and first-time candidate Michael Mawilai (Green) at the forum. Each candidate gave a brief overview of their platform before responding to a series of questions from Colleen Conway, moderator of the event and chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.
Much of the conversation at the forum focused on the board’s role in holding the University’s administration accountable for both transparency and communication with the greater community. When asked about responding to sexual misconduct allegations against former University Provost Martin Philbert and the late University Health Service Director Robert Anderson, Ryder Diggs advocated for bringing in external experts and spoke to the board’s responsibility to the public and to the University.
“I believe the board’s role is critical with issues such as Philbert and Dr. Anderson because these types of issues affect the entire institution, affect trust, transparency and obviously affect risk — the risk profile of the University,” Ryder Diggs said. “I believe the board’s role is to assist with bringing in independent outside experts to work with our internal teams to take a broad look.”
Mawilai advocated for conducting investigations internally when possible. Meyers seconded Ryder Digg’s proposal, suggesting that the University should bring in outside experts in these types of investigations.
The three candidates expressed their disapproval of University President Mark Schlissel’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mawilai referenced the Graduate Employees’ Organization protests last month, criticizing the University’s reopening process.
“I think we really should’ve erred more on the side of caution, make sure that everybody’s onboard and not try to steamroll a reopening before we had all the plans in place where everybody knew what they had to do,” Mawilai said.
Meyers said the University’s reopening plan was unclear, emphasizing the board’s responsibility in holding the administration accountable. Ryder Diggs said it is important to create a clear plan early on, modifying it as we learn more about the virus and gathering input from a variety of voices on campus.
The candidates also discussed the University’s 1.9% increase in tuition for the 2020-2021 school year. Ryder Diggs said she voted twice against the tuition increase and suggested that the University could afford not to increase tuition in the upcoming school year. Mawilai spoke to the importance of providing the best value for students’ education and also advocated to minimize tuition increases.
Meyers, whose platform is largely based in higher education affordability, promised one of his first proposals would be to roll back the increase and freeze tuition.
“The cost of higher education has stifled diversity and stifled inclusion where folks look elsewhere,” Meyers said. “I think the budget needs to be controlled, especially during this COVID period. The University is in the most serious financial challenge in its modern history right now and they chose to raise tuition where students get a diminished experience … it was wrong.”
Other topics included systemic racism and proposals to cut police funding. All three candidates acknowledged the existence of systemic racism and the necessity of taking steps to eradicate it. None said they would defund campus police.
Ryder Diggs and Meyers argued the University should allocate more resources to the Division of Public Safety and Security. Meyers advocated for investing more resources for training, hiring and paying police, while Ryder Diggs focused specifically on measures toward community policing.
“I believe in community policing, which to me means thinking about the different arenas that our public safety department deals with and trying to find unique solutions for those concepts,” Ryder Diggs said. “That kind of approach often requires money. I’m in favor of giving resources needed for that kind of community policing.”
Ryder Diggs also advocated for increasing racial sensitivity training for police officers.
The candidates spoke on the 20 million dollar investment in the Dearborn and Flint campuses approved in the 2020-2021 fiscal budget meeting in June. All three candidates felt that the investment was not sufficient. Ryder Diggs said more collaboration between the three University campuses is necessary, while Meyers suggested making it easier to transfer credits between campuses in order to increase affordability.
The forum concluded with a broader discussion about the University’s transparency. All three candidates agreed that executive officers’ bonuses should be made public. They also discussed the board’s role in facilitating communication between the administration and faculty, staff and students.
“We are hiring the brightest and the best to teach the brightest and the best, so we should take faculty’s advice with much more consideration than we are currently because they are renowned experts in their field,” Mawilai said.
Ryder Diggs framed the board’s role as a potential conduit between community voices and the administration.
“I see the board’s role in this as encouraging the administration to communicate, be transparent and listen,” Ryder Diggs said. “We talk to faculty, staff and students, and different organizations. We talk to GEO, to LEO, to Resident Advisers and the food service workers — we’re having conversations, and then we are conduits for those thoughts and information to the administration.”
Meyers also spoke to the importance of making more voices heard at the University.
“The board should … hold the president accountable, but it’s also (culture), it’s one of inclusion, of ‘yes, we want your input, we want your ideas,’ and then acting on them, and not just have it be decision making coming from the top down, ” Meyers said. “It’s really cultural, and the culture needs to be one of inclusion.”
Daily Staff Reporter Angelina Little can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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