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The Michigan Daily Administration Beat will be conducting interviews with the incumbent and challenging candidates for University of Michigan Board of Regents prior to the November midterm election. Our first interview is with Democratic challenger candidate Jordan Acker. Acker is a University alum and worked for the Barack Obama administration in Washington, D.C. He currently works at a law firm with his father and resides in Oakland County with his wife and two daughters.
The Michigan Daily: What made you decide to run for regent this year?
Jordan Acker: There’s two real days in my life that made me want to do this. The first one was where I graduated from undergrad … My parents signed me up for a bunch of (College Savings Programs) that allowed me to graduate free … The problem is that it can’t just be the children of parents who are able to afford it are able to graduate debt free. That’s not acceptable.
The second thing was a lot less happy. In 2016, I was playing basketball on a Saturday morning, and I felt a twinge in my back. I went to the doctor and the doctor prescribed me Flexeril. I took one and my liver shut down … I called Cleveland Clinic and the nurse said to me, ‘Why are you calling here, the best doctor in the world for you is at U-M hospital in Ann Arbor.’ I feel like this doctor saved my life … I feel unbelievably grateful for what this University has done for me, and I want to make sure that these gifts like our health system and a debt-free education are passed down to all Michigan students regardless of their ability to afford it. So that’s a big part of why I decided to do this.
TMD: What do you think of the demographics of the current board?
JA: One of the perspectives that’s really missing in the room is that of young people. While I guess I’m not that young anymore — I turned 34 last week — compared to the people currently on the board, that’s a huge difference. Most of my colleagues at my age have had to deal with an incredible amount of student debt, whereas the generation before really didn’t. I think that the perspective of a younger person is really, really important on the board. I don’t want to speak badly of Regents Newman and Richner. I think they’re fine people and they’ve done a fine job as regents, but we need new perspectives in that room that have experienced them in their own lives.
TMD: What has your campaign been like? What have you struggled with? Has knowing that such a vast population will be voting for you affected how you run it?
JA: Listening is really important; it’s something that I’ve done as a candidate. I’ve traveled over 35,000 miles in my car this year, been to more than 40 Michigan counties talking to people throughout the state. I went to the UP in February … I’ve been talking on all three campuses. One of the most humbling things about this job and this campaign is that you do represent people from Monroe and Detroit all the way to the western Upper Peninsula. Whether they know it or not, they have a stake in this University …
Over the last year, as a young person when you run for office, there will be various people over a period of time who will say to you, “You’re too young, you can’t do this. Young people don’t run for regent.” I’ve heard that from a lot of different people.
Not only do young people run for regent, but it is imperative that we have a young person on this board. That is crucial to the future success of this University.
TMD: So you tweeted out you and the other Democrat candidate Paul Brown’s 10-point plan earlier this week to address how both of you would reform the Board of Regents. What inspired some of the points? Some are small details like holding regents meetings in the evening and others larger like regents not receiving endorsements from University members or family members, so what was the thought process behind that?
JA: We really wanted to nail down 10 things that were both concrete and doable. We wanted to start with small things like moving to the evenings. That’s a big deal for a lot of people; they’re working or they have classes during the day … That’s a really big problem; that suggests a board that doesn’t want to be engaged. We want to make sure that we can measure our progress …
The public and the University communities demand more accountability and not less, that’s what we’re looking to provide. The endorsement one is a very specific one … (Regents Newman and Richner) said they’ve agreed with our plan, but they haven’t agreed with our plan because they’re (accepting endorsements with potential conflicts of interest). Andrea Newman is running radio ads on this particular issue. They pay lip service to after 24 and 16 years wanting transparency but doing the opposite. Some of the bigger ones, the administration I worked in, the Obama administration, they always said that the appearance of a conflict was just as bad as a conflict. I think we have to make sure that we do everything we can to stop that from happening.
TMD: A lot of your ideas relate to making attending the University more affordable. Do you have any more specific ideas to address this, considering that tuition has been steadily increasing over the past few years?
JA: I think the most important metric for the University is not the tuition, but the cost of attendance, which I think is a higher number than the tuition. But that’s what you have to look at — how much is coming out of a student’s pocket to pay for school. There are some things that we could do in regards to the endowment, for example, raise spending from the endowment of the general fund from 4.5 percent to 6 percent. They could easily go back to 6 percent without any impact on the long-term financial viability of this university. That’s a big one, I think you have to look at using that money and other money like that on expanding that guarantee to all three campuses.
TMD: I know an issue that’s been brought up by students and faculty in the regents meetings this year has been the issue of carbon neutrality and the lack of a set goal on the part of the University. Do you have any thoughts on this issue?
JA: I just met with a group of students last night who are working on some of these environmental issues. It’s incredibly important, with what’s going on with Washington. We are in a critical 10-year period for stopping climate change. We’re not being ambitious enough, we don’t have set goals. I think a goal of carbon neutrality is something the University must strive for. Other universities in any other area look to U of M as a model for public schools, but that is not the case in the environment. I think having some sort of commission with some of the brightest minds on campus to come up with some of these set goals and then bind the administration to it.