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On Monday, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs was joined by Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations for the University of Michigan, and held elections for chair and vice chair for the new academic year during the meeting.

Wilbanks began her session with SACUA by explaining the role of government relations at the University. She discussed how government relations collaborates with the federal, state and local governments, and detailed certain policies on which her office focuses.

Wilbanks also addressed her role working with Michigan State University and Wayne State University on various initiatives to benefit higher education.

“In the federal domain, research support is very, very important, but there are also really important issues there that we address including immigration policy, tax policy, we look at student financial aid embedded in the higher education authorization act, libraries,” Wilbanks said. “There are lots of issues at the federal level that my office helps to manage.”

Wilbanks touched on the work ethic she expects from both herself and other employees in the office of government relations. She said their job is to work with people all over Michigan and of all ages to best represent the needs of the University now and in the future.

“The lights in the offices where my state outreach staff use as their home base are off a lot,” Wilbanks said. “And that means they are out and about doing the work they have to do on behalf of the University, to make those connections to find ways that we can extend the resources in a variety of ways to really support growth and opportunity in the state of Michigan.”

SACUA member Deirdre Spencer, a librarian for History of Art at the University, asked Wilbanks how changes in government at the federal level impacts the University’s goals.

“When national administrations change, and the party changes, how does that affect how you do your work?” Spencer asked.

Wilbanks responded by explaining, in her time working in government relations, it has not mattered who the president of the United States is — all that matters is they value higher education. She said the University does not take a political stance.

“I tend to focus on the work and not the person,” Wilbanks said. “The work is really important. We have a set of objectives when it comes to the support for federal research at the University of Michigan and it really is not linked to the person holding the top office as it is with the importance at the University. It would be foolish to say that the person at the top doesn’t have influence, because they suggest a budget and other policies must be vetted by the administration … what is important to say is the way in which leaders articulate the aspirations of and the importance of higher education really matters.”

SACUA then went into an executive session to deliberate on and elect a new chair and vice chair. After an initial miscount of the votes and despite an attendance of fewer than 10 people, current SACUA Chair Neil Marsh, professor of chemistry, announced the winners.

“I am pleased to announce that the next chair of SACUA will be professor Joy Beatty and the next vice chair will be professor Colleen Conway,” Marsh said.

Due to a lack of time, Marsh moved discussing the grievance policy to the agenda for the week of April 29. 

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