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The Michigan Daily Administration Beat will be conducting interviews with the incumbent and challenging candidates for University of Michigan Board of Regents prior to the November midterm election. This interview is with Republican incumbent candidate and Board Chair Andrew Richner.
Richner is a University alum, having attended the University for his undergraduate degree and a law degree. After serving three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives, he was elected to the Board of Regents in 2002 and re-elected in 2010. In addition to his position on the Board of Regents, Richner works at Clark Hill PLC, an international law firm. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, and his two children both graduated from the University.
The Michigan Daily: You’ve been elected twice before, so you have some campaign experience as a regent. What new challenges are you facing in this campaign that are different from those in the past?
Andrew Richner: The last time I ran was in 2010, and the mechanics of the campaign have changed dramatically because of new technology. I will say that. But this environment is different. What’s happening nationally impacts elections here in Michigan. If the question is really how the election is different in a general sense, every election is different. I’ve been through a few at this point in my life, and they really change from time to time — especially after eight years, things do change. But there are national issues that seem to have dominated more than any election I’ve been involved with in the past. Just the vitriol that’s coming out of Washington, D.C., it does have an impact on our election environment here in Michigan.
TMD: How do you think it changes the election environment?
Richner: Well, I think there’s more interest. I’m an outside observer in some respects just like everyone else. But to me, there does seem to be heightened interest in this election. I think you’re seeing (it) in terms of increased advertising and news stories about the election. There’s more attention than I think I’ve seen in the past, especially about a midterm election. I’ve always been in this (midterm) cycle, at least since I’ve been running for the Board of Regents. And these elections historically have generated less interest than presidential elections. But I get the sense that it’s different in this election, that it’s not a typical midterm election. I think there’s more interest.
TMD: What objectives do you hope to achieve if you are re-elected to the Board of Regents?
Richner: My focus as a regent has always been, since day one, on academic quality and excellence along with affordability for a top-quality education. I think my focus going forward is the same. It’s on the academic side and affordability. I look back to 2002, when I was first elected to the Board, and I look at the University today, and I think the trajectory has been nothing but up. It started at a high level, and today it’s even higher. Our applications are at an all-time high. The graduate programs we have — I think we have 97 programs that rank in the top 10. We have a health system that’s ranked in the top five of all hospital systems in the country, delivering high quality health care to the people of Michigan.
And in terms of affordability, we’ve made tremendous strides in terms of financial aid. We initiated the Go Blue Guarantee, which expanded aid dramatically to the point where we can now offer to students from families with (incomes of) $65,000 or less free tuition for four years at the University of Michigan. … And we’ve made tremendous strides in terms of additional financial aid for those who come from families with greater incomes. So we want to assure that those who are admitted to the University of Michigan can afford to attend. … So anyway, I look back and I think the University today is hitting on all cylinders.
TMD: Can you talk about future initiatives you have in mind should you be re-elected? What will you be focusing on in the next eight years?
Richner: One of the concerns I have going forward and currently is making sure that we have a welcoming environment on campus for all viewpoints. And I’m very much interested in promoting a culture where free speech is embraced and we encourage free and open discussion and dialogue among differing viewpoints — even if controversial. I think it’s very important to an academic environment that we do have free discourse on campus. And I’m really committed to seeing that the University do more in terms of welcoming differing viewpoints on campus.
TMD: How do you plan on going about that?
Richner: Well, I raise this issue at virtually every opportunity — with the president, with the Board, with academic leaders on campus. And I think we need to do more in terms of inviting speakers with viewpoints that aren’t commonly heard on campus. I think we need to do more to encourage hiring decisions that are made with, depending on the program or the class, … all viewpoints … represented, and that our student body is reflective of diversity of thought.
I think we need to do more in terms of affordability going forward — another priority. … We should be doing more in terms of alternative revenues. … And in terms of academic quality, I think it’s just doing more of what we’ve been doing, and that’s hiring good people. At the end of the day, it takes resources to do that, and we can’t simply rely on tuition to fund our efforts. We have to look for other ways and new models for providing the best quality education we can.
TMD: What are some things about the Board of Regents that need to be improved, and how will these things change if you are re-elected?
Richner: I think a board functions well for an institution when there are differing viewpoints and different experiences and backgrounds represented on the board. And just looking at the partisan side of things, I think it’s important that we have some of us on that board that come to the table with more conservative viewpoints. I think it is important to have at least some voices at the table who bring a different background and experience and different viewpoints to the table. … I should probably also add, with respect to transparency and how the Board operates and the University operates in general, I think we can do more in terms of information flow because while I think we do do a decent job of providing information, sometimes it can not be as organized as it should be and you can get overwhelmed with too much information. And I think it’s important that we have relevant and material information presented in a clear and understandable manner.