Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs, both Democratic incumbents and University of Michigan alum, were nominated to defend their seats on the University’s Board of Regents at the Michigan Democratic Convention this weekend. Both have served as regents since 2012.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., spoke to nominate Bernstein, while University Regent Denise Ilitch spoke to nominate Ryder Diggs.
In a video posted online earlier this month, Bernstein detailed his previous work as a University regent, including advocating for making college more affordable.
“It is an honor to have run and won eight years ago with my friend Shauna Ryder Diggs,” Bernstein said. “We’re eager to continue serving as Democratic regents at the University of Michigan … As a regent, I have aggressively advanced our Democratic vision for affordable, accessible and excellent public higher education, while embracing diversity, honoring labor and protecting the environment.”
In another prerecorded video, Ryder Diggs also discussed the importance of college affordability, noting her own experience with student loans.
“As a daughter of two university professors, I believe in the power of higher education to improve the lives of us all,” Ryder Diggs said. “I’m a physician in solo private practice, and I attended Michigan for college, medical school and residency. Those years were wonderful and I built long lasting friendships and was trained by the best doctors in the nation, but they were costly. Even when my family supported me, I still had to take out large loans to pay for this extraordinary education.”
Ryder Diggs emphasized several policy issues she has focused on over the past eight years, including support for more equitable funding across all three University campuses and organized labor.
“I believe in the power of collective bargaining,” Ryder Diggs said. “That is why I’ll continue to support the faculty and staff doing the work on a daily basis … but there is still much more work to be done.”
The two will appear on the ballot for the general election in November.
According to campaign finance documents filed prior to the convention, Bernstein’s campaign has raised a total of $25,964.25 in contributions and other receipts. Of that, $20,000 came from a direct contribution Bernstein made to his own campaign on Aug. 3.
While both are Democrats, they have not been in lockstep with one another in their time as Regents.
Over the summer, as the Board debated a tuition increase to help the University deal with a budget crunch brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Diggs voted against the initial budget proposal while Bernstein supported it. That proposal, which failed with a split vote, would have increased tuition across all three campuses while providing additional funding for the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
The move drew swift criticism from students, who argued that classes will not be as valuable as they would be under normal, pre-pandemic circumstances and that the heightened monetary burden was a blow to people facing financial straits of their own.
At another meeting several days later to consider a new budget proposal, Diggs and Bernstein maintained their initial positions: Diggs voting no and Bernstein voting yes. That budget passed in a 5-2 vote and included a 1.9 percent increase in tuition for the Ann Arbor campus; a 3.9 percent increase for UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn; a 1.9 percent increase in room and board fees and a $50 COVID-19 student fee.
In February, Bernstein announced the Board of Regents would reevaluate the University’s policy on investing in fossil fuel, freezing any new investments during that time. The decision followed months of public commenters highlighting the threat of climate change and the University’s responsibility to combat it.
At that same meeting, Bernstein also advocated for ensuring that major capital projects undertaken by the University align with its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
In December 2019, when the Climate Action Movement and One University members expressed frustration at a lack of direct response from the Board regarding climate change, Diggs was the only Regent to respond to their questions. She noted that the Regents do take into account public commenters’ arguments and sympathize with their views.
Bernstein’s efforts to support the University have not always been well received. In July 2016, he withdrew a $3 million donation he had made to the new Trotter Multicultural Center due to concerns about naming the building after Bernstein.
The Trotter Multicultural Center, which honors activist and newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter, is the only building on campus named after an African American. Bernstein said his intention was not to minimize Trotter’s legacy, adding that the decision came after feedback from the University community.
“Once the applause for our gift announcement quieted, we heard something else — voices on this campus that expressed deep, heartfelt concern about what was happening,” Bernstein said in 2016. “What we believed to be a gift, others felt as a loss. Since the gift announcement we spent time with faculty, students, staff and alumni who shared with us their sense of loss and to express their fear that the only African American name on a building at our University would be diminished or erased.”
More than 700 community members attended the convention this past weekend, which featured speakers including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and other federal, state and local officials from the Democtatic Party.
The virtual convention also included the nomination of candidates for the Michigan State Board of Education, Wayne State University Board of Governors, Michigan State University Board of Trustees and State Supreme Court.
Biden spoke to attendees first about his campaign. Biden received the nomination last week virtually at the Democratic National Convention alongside running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
“Donald Trump has turned his back on Michigan, ignoring the guidance of experts, failing to get PPE (personal protective equipment) to essential workers (and he) put his own political fortunes ahead of the health and well-being of students and educators, frontline heroes and families just trying to make it through this crisis and get back to living their lives,” Biden said. “This November, Michigan is going to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough.’”
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said it was important to elect officials who will serve Michigan communities.
“This November, we need to elect people who will fight for all Michiganders,” Peters said. “We need to work twice as hard to elect candidates who take this pandemic seriously, who believe in science, who will put families and small businesses first. The fight won't be easy, but we cannot afford to lose.”
Peters spoke about his campaign against John James, a Republican who is running for a Senate seat for the second time.
“I always put Michigan first,” Peters said. “My opponent, well, he says that he is 2,000 percent with Trump. And when you’re committed to Trump 2,000 percent, you are simply not focused on Michigan.”
Managing News Editor Sayali Amin contributed reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at email@example.com.
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