From the Daily: Vote Deitch, Ilitch for regent

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published October 29, 2008

Though many students may know little about the Board of Regents, it is the body that oversees the University’s most important decisions, including the cost of attending this university. With two open seats on the board this election, students can only hope that two progressive, pro-affordability, pro-transparency candidates will fill these seats. But while the four main candidates running have made these issues their top priority, most of them haven’t left this page convinced of their capacity to deliver on these promises.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t strong candidates. As substantiated by 16 years of responsible service on the board, Democratic incumbent Laurence Deitch is still the most qualified candidate on the ballot. During his two terms, Deitch has been on the right side of most issues. In 1993, he led a successful effort to include “sexual orientation” in the University’s non-discrimination statement. He has also been a vocal advocate of protecting diversity on campus. When necessary, Deitch has been a productive voice of dissent on the board, opposing the construction of luxury boxes in Michigan Stadium and encouraging compromise.

Perhaps Deitch’s greatest asset — and greatest liability — is his experience. Sixteen years is a long period of service, and it isn’t conducive to fresh thinking. While Deitch clearly cares about student involvement and transparency, he doesn’t seem to have any new ideas about how to improve these weaknesses. However, that doesn't negate the fact that for years he has been one of the most committed and valuable regents. The Daily endorses LAURENCE DEITCH for University regent.

At the other end of the spectrum is Susan Brown, a Republican from Kalamazoo who is launching her second (and, as she insists, final) bid for regent. A fourth-generation Wolverine, Brown has been an active member of the University community as a fundraiser and member of three boards. But while we applaud her commitment to the University, her qualifications end there.

Aside from sticking to her 2006 campaign promise not to raise tuition — a vow this page would support were it accompanied by a convincing grasp of the University’s financial situation — Brown offers nothing that her opponents can’t do better.

Her fellow Republican John LaFond is a strong candidate, largely due to his deep understanding of how the University functions and how communities across the state view it. This has led him to an especially good understanding of students’ concerns and how to address them. For instance, the former Ford Motor Co. executive would like to hold regular forums that students, parents or anyone else interested can attend to keep the regents accountable.

Drawing on his experience as the director of a program between Ford and the University and the chair of an industry advisory committee, LaFond believes that the University should create business partnerships so private industry can invest in students. In theory, it could be quite beneficial to students. Of course, there are real ethical dangers in allowing private industry to have such a strong presence in a public university — which didn’t seem to concern LaFond.

But LaFond has a fatal flaw: his stances on social issues. LaFond opposes embryonic stem cell research and goes as far as to say that he would discourage this research at the University if it becomes legal next week. Further, he believes the University shouldn’t provide health benefits to the same-sex partners of University employees. He partially justifies this stance by explaining that the University already spends too much on health care. Apparently, equality is too expensive.

The regents’ stances on issues like these help set the tone on campus. This page strongly believes that tone should be one of acceptance. While his experience and fresh ideas make him a strong candidate, LaFond’s desire to treat the University like a business at the expense of the people who make it great is concerning. We can’t take a chance on a regent whose values might interfere with his ability to govern according to the University’s.

For Democrat Denise Ilitch , her candidacy is about “the four As”: affordability, accessibility, alliances and ability. While she wants to cap tuition, she’s realistic about what it will take to do that — fundraising. She, like her opponents, also expressed her concern about keeping graduates in the state. However, she substantiated her commitment to this goal, proposing that the University use its extensive alumni network to help graduates get in-state jobs.

Ilitch also made it clear that she shares the University’s progressive values. Having served on the boards of such groups as the Detroit Branch NAACP, she would be an asset in the University’s attempts to maintain diversity.

Disappointingly, Ilitch did not offer us a presentation quite worthy of a woman who has been the president of a billion-dollar company and has served on almost too many boards to list. While certainly committed and qualified, she’s unable to offer many specifics on her plans and, thus, seems a little unprepared.

We hope that Ilitch, if elected, will make an effort to learn even more about the demands of being a regent and detail her own ideas. Perhaps she and Deitch could even borrow a few new ones, like forums, from LaFond. But because of her depth of experience in many different areas, we endorse DENISE ILITCH because she can be the breath of fresh air we need on the Board of Regents.