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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel is often the most visible decision-maker on campus, but in fact, the school is controlled by a governing body called the Board of Regents.
Over the past few years, the Board of Regents has faced criticism for its lack of transparency. In interviews, some students expressed confusion about Regents and how they function institutionally within the framework of the University, as well as continued concerns with the transparency between students and regents.
“I always knew they were the bosses of the president, and thinking about it, yeah, we probably should know,” said LSA sophomore Kate Roush. “But I have never been in an institution where there has been transparency about the existing ‘board.’ ”
Similarly, LSA sophomore Joseph Cohen said though he has been on campus for two years, he does not know much about the board, who they are or what they do.
“I think there might be eight members on the board,” Cohen said. “I’m pretty sure it’s a committee of influential alumni who make decisions with Schlissel.”
The board’s lack of visibility may stem from the president’s more visible position in times of crisis. Schlissel is often the first to respond to student concerns, holds monthly fireside chats with 30 students, addresses the students via email about pressing University matters and most recently spoke at a protest and vigil Wednesday night in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.
The board meets only once a month to discuss and vote on University matters. Students can attend meetings by sitting in the audience, but the section is physically separated from the board by a media table.
Though some regents host office hours and work with Central Student Government on student outreach, the governing body does not require them to do so.
Created in 1837, the board consists of eight regents in total, two of whom are elected to an eight-year term every two years. The University president serves as ex officio on the board, meaning he is a part of the body without being a regent. Regents serve without compensation.
When the board votes on important decisions at meetings, the president often sends out a mass email to the University. One example is the recent appointment of Kelli Trosvig, the University’s first vice president for information technology and chief information officer. In an October email to the University, Schlissel explained that the board approved this new appointment and described Trosvig’s role.
LSA junior Alex Contis, a CSG representative, said the president and various vice presidents’ roles are often overemphasized and dilute the significance of the board.
“When students think of the University, they think of the president and vice president as executing a lot of the decisions just because those are the most public figures,” Contis said. “I honestly don’t think that many students at this school can name who’s on the Board of Regents.”
CSG President David Schafer and Vice President Micah Griggs, LSA seniors, proposed placing a non-voting student on the University’s board to open communication and provide increased transparency between students and the administration during their campaign last winter.
The position, however, has not yet been created, and is of dubious legality — though all Michigan citizens can technically run, that would exclude out-of-state students, thereby not providing equal opportunity for all students, according to attorney and current regent Mike Behm (D). However, the board reinstated a bylaw to allow for more student input in decision-making during its Sept. 14 meeting. The bylaw makes the vice president for student life a liason between students and the Board.
Schafer said the low level of student interest in the board is due to students’ busy lives combined with the fact that the board is a primarily governing force and not always active on campus.
“I think there’s a lot going on campus,” Schafer said. “I think students are specifically immersed in their student organizations and their academics and their day-to-day lives, and the Board of Regents is not always on campus, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it might be hard for students to really get to know them.”
Contis noted that CSG’s efforts to create a new student seat on the board will continue.
“(The board’s) desire to further the student body impact in the regents’ decision and spreading the word is something (CSG) wants to do.”
Carl Meyers, who ran for a position on the board this election cycle but was defeated by Weiser and Regent Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms), advocated for creating a student advisory board.
“I am going to have a student advisory board advising me on challenges and issues facing the University from the student perspective,” Meyers said. “I will hold office hours once a month in the student Union where students can come and talk.”
Ilitch, won her second term Tuesady, also campaigned in part on the need for student input on University initiatives like the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan.
“We definitely need our students involved actively and we should work in strong collaboration with them,” Ilitch said. “The more that we can learn about these issues the more we can be reactive to it and navigate a healthy conversation around these topics.”
Even if students’ role in the board’s decision-making process were expanded, it is, however, not clear students would be interested in getting involved. Of the students interviewed by the Daily, many did not express an interest in creating a relationship with the board.
LSA sophomore Hailey Kruger said she is very active in encouraging political participation among her classmates, but said she neither knew about the board nor was she concerned about her lack of knowledge.
Business junior Kevin Gay did not express concern either.
“I feel like I only hear about the regents when something bad happens,” Gay said. “I am not really concerned about them.”