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The Michigan Daily spoke with Regent Sarah Hubbard (R), the University of Michigan’s newest member of the Board of Regents, Tuesday to discuss her time in office since first joining the Board in January. Hubbard is one of two Republicans on the Board, the other being Ron Weiser, who is currently in the midst of controversy after calls from some in the U-M community for his resignation.
Hubbard was elected in November after narrowly defeating incumbent Democrat Shauna Ryder Diggs by 4,000 votes in a statewide election. Hubbard, who grew up on a farm in rural Michigan and was a Pell Grant-eligible student at the University, pitched herself to voters on the campaign trail as a moderate, bi-partisan candidate who leaned right and emphasized lowering tuition, protecting freedom of expression on campus and bringing a “new perspective” to the board.
There are eight members of the Board of Regents who are elected to eight-year terms per the Constitution of the State of Michigan. Elections are staggered, and every two years two members of the Board of Regents must seek re-election. Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan all have elections for their Boards of Regents.
The Board of Regents is the most powerful body at the University and has two main responsibilities: hiring the president of the University and managing the budget, which includes tuition.
Before her election to the Board, Hubbard held no political office or position at the University. Hubbard said her “great passion for helping the University” propelled her expeditious jump to this powerful position.
“I’ve been very active in working with the alumni groups since graduating,” Hubbard said. “And I’ve also had a lot of relationships with public officials, with the public, with the business community across the state and just saw an opportunity to serve and a way to give back to my University. I happened to win with a squeaker there last year, and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to be more engaged.”
Hubbard is the owner of Acuitas LLC, a government relations and lobbying firm in the state’s capital of Lansing. She holds two degrees from the University, a bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from LSA and an MBA from the Ross School of Business. She also has a history of working with the Republican Party, though in the past she has donated to Democratic candidates in Michigan, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.
Hubbard’s first official Board of Regents meeting is not until Feb. 18, but she said she is already preparing and getting to know U-M administration and student leaders.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know the leaders of the University much better,” Hubbard said. “Talking with administration leaders, deans, student leaders, taking emails from a lot of different groups and preparing to meet with other groups on campus and hearing from a lot of people. … While I’ve known the University for a long time, I’m getting to know it in a much different, better way.”
Though the Board of Regents typically handles general management and high-level oversight of the University, Hubbard said she believes the Regents are very accessible to students and members of the U-M community.
“We do receive a lot of emails and outreach from students and student groups, and we certainly encourage students to continue to stay in touch with Regents,” Hubbard said. “And there are all sorts of things that might be on students’ minds, especially with COVID. I very much appreciate hearing from people and what their concerns are, and I want to hear from people. I want to hear from students and families and parents and faculty — all of you.”
Hubbard said being a Regent has gone how she expected it to so far and spoke about the “learning curve” of becoming a Regent.
“I thought it would be very tense and that it would be relatively time-consuming, and it is … but as far as actual surprises, I don’t know that I have anything in particular that I would point to,” Hubbard said. “It’s just such a steep learning curve right now, and a lot of items and issues are new to me at this point.”
Hubbard has been assigned to the Health Affairs Committee on the board, an important position in the middle of a global pandemic. According to the bylaws of the Board of Regents, the committee provides oversight of the University’s clinical enterprise, including the health system.
As when Hubbard ran, she said she is still interested in taking a look at the budget as well as protecting conservative voices, which she believes are not treated with respect on campus.
“I’m also very interested in the budget of the University of course, trying to keep a handle on tuition and create more opportunities for scholarships to lower the cost of attending the University, or at least keep it competitive for students and families,” Hubbard said. “Things like having a balance in discussions on campus too is really important. I think it’s important for all voices to be comfortable being heard, speaking up in class and speaking up on campus.”
During her campaign, Hubbard said part of the reason she decided to run for a Regent position was to even the playing field and bring balance to a board that had a 7-1 Democrat majority. Hubbard claimed this imbalance made board discussions “not robust.”
When asked how her colleagues reacted to her “new perspective” and if Board discussions had become more “robust,” Hubbard responded the Board gave her a “warm welcome” and that partisanship rarely affected how the Board voted on issues.
“It’s really a very rare occurrence when there’s a vote that takes place that’s partisan, and I think we want to work hard to really work together and find consensus as much as possible on an issue,” Hubbard said.
The Daily also asked Hubbard if she felt partisanship should have any role at all in governing the University as an institution of higher education. Hubbard acknowledged that while partisanship is a factor in Regent elections, the University’s best interests should be the Board’s top priority for any issue.
“I think what (the Board of Regents) all have in common is what’s best for U-M — what’s best for students, what’s best for academic excellence,” Hubbard said. “I don’t think partisanship is going to rule the day, but it’s certainly an element that can’t be completely ignored.”
Hubbard said she hopes to be a fiduciary steward of taxpayer dollars and tuition while on the Board and plans to consider money put towards the University in every vote.
“I want students and family and faculty and others to know that I’m available should you have anything you want to share with me,” Hubbard said. “Please reach out and send me whatever it is that you think I need to know, because I’m like a sponge right now — just like the proverbial freshmen in college — I’m a sponge just soaking up information, and an informed public official makes the best decisions.”
Regent Sarah Hubbard will serve an eight-year term that will expire on January 1st, 2029. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daily Staff Reporter Jared Dougall can be reached at email@example.com.
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