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While University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel is generally a well-known figure, students seem to know considerably less about his bosses.
The University is directed by the eight-member Board of Regents, which serves as the board of directors for the University’s three campuses, health system and athletic department.
Every voter in the state of Michigan has a say in these Regents’ election, with each Regent serving an eight-year term. Every two years, two of the Regents come up for reelection. This year, incumbents Mark Bernstein (D) and Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) are facing two Republican challengers: Carl Meyers and Sarah Hubbard, in addition to third party candidates.
In general, the board handles long-term strategic planning for the University, while the administration is responsible for daily operations, according to Regent Jordan Acker (D).
He said it’s important for students to understand what the board does and does not do.
“I had a lot of students, for example, emailing and demanding that we have a snow day a couple of years ago,” Acker said. “It’s not my job to determine whether there’s a snow day or not. We don’t run the institution on a day-to-day basis, and nor should we. That’s what we hire the president for and what the president hires the administration for because they’re the experts on the day-to-day running of the University.”
Regents are involved in overseeing construction projects, including the Michigan Union, the LSA Building and additions to Michigan Medicine. Every month, the Board of Regents meets to discuss University policies and updates, vote on issues and hear comments from the general public.
The board is also in effect Schlissel’s boss, having the power to remove him from his position as the head of the University. While the Faculty Senate passed a vote of no confidence in Schlissel in September, the largely symbolic act had no impact on the president’s employment status. The board responded with a unanimous statement in support of Schlissel.
It is responsible for managing the school’s budget and tuition, construction approval and hiring a president for the University.
Over the summer, the board decided to increase tuition by 1.9% at an emergency meeting after a previous vote failed. The move provoked backlash from students.
Ilitch, chair of the Board of Regents, did not vote for a tuition increase, and told The Michigan Daily she continues to work on increasing financial aid to students with programs such as the Go Blue Guarantee.
“I, along with Regent Diggs voted no on a tuition increase and additional costs to students this year,” Ilitich said. “While we did not prevail, I, along with the board, worked diligently to offer more financial aid programs to students.”
Acker said the board’s job mostly consists of oversight, painting the regents as fiduciaries of the University.
In March, the board fired David Daniels from his position as a Music, Theatre & Dance professor following accusations of sexual assault.
In compliance with recommendations in the WilmerHale report on sexual misconduct allegations against former Provost Martin Philbert, the regents decided to change which executive officers receive misconduct reports regarding senior administration officials.
The board takes on a number of other contentious issues. Some students are pushing for a student seat on the Board of Regents to be added to represent student interests, as they believe the current structure fails to take into account their perspectives as people who attend the University.
LSA sophomore Renee Boudreau is part of Students Demand Representation, which is spearheading this effort. She said adding students to the board is the only way to include their voices in the decision-making process.
“I honestly do not see any improved future for the University without student representation,” Boudreau said. “I think that administration has consistently pretended to understand student experiences and pretended to understand these experiences more than (students) understand (their own experiences). And I think that with that kind of culture from administration, we can’t have a university that advocates for students without students actually taking part in those decisions.”
While some student activists feel the board is not addressing their views, Regent Paul Brown (D) said he understands their anger, but he doesn’t believe the body’s slow pace is a bad thing.
“I share their frustration,” Brown said. “But at the same time I have come to realize that the decisions made that we’re referring to have many consequences, and they should not be made lightly until we totally understand all of the unintended consequences, positive and negative.”
Brown said he would support adding a student perspective to the board, as well as additional representation for organized labor.
Other peer institutions like the University of Texas and University of California systems have student representation on their governing bodies. Currently, the Central Student Government president attends meetings and reports to the board but does not have a vote.
The board has faced pressure to divest the University’s endowment from fossil fuels. Climate Action Movement is a student organization that lobbies the board and has recently called for divestment from fossil fuels.
Sasha Bishop, member of CAM and Rackham student, said student activists will continue to press the board to divest from fossil fuels.
“We really do want divestment from fossil fuels, and pretty immediately,” Bishop said. “The fact that they essentially said that they would make movement on (divestment), and then have been ignoring any further requests for updates is pretty disgusting. And again, shows just how lacking that priority is.”
Bishop said CAM has had a hard time getting their demands heard by the board.
“It’s very difficult to get the regents involved with the student body,” Bishop said. “They have a vested interest in keeping decision-making cloistered away and not involving student voices. I think that this is a trend that many student groups are feeling right now.”
Others are pressing the board to increase the resources allocated to Flint and Dearborn. The One University Campaign was founded to promote equitable funding across the University’s three campuses. After facing criticism over the lack of resources available to students outside of Ann Arbor, Debasish Dutta, chancellor of U-M Flint, announced at the September regents meeting that the Flint campus will participate in a pilot program to bring telehealth services to its residential students in conjunction with University Health Service and Student Legal Services to Flint for the first time as well.
Acker said his favorite part of his position as a regent has been one-on-one conversations with students deeply concerned about issues. He said the most effective student advocacy has been similar to the “Ban the Box” decision.
The University decided this summer to stop asking about misdemeanor charges on applications.
“What we were able to do, working with some students who had been directly affected … was to get the University to change their policy,” Acker said. “(The board) realized it was outdated. It was not well-written and wasn’t well-tailored for what the institution really needed, so I was able to work with students.”
Acker said he has a different perspective as the only regent to graduate in the 21st century.
If elected to the board, Meyers would have a unique background. As an alum of the University’s Dearborn campus, he would be the only regent to have graduated from there.
Of the current regents, only one did not attend the University: Regent Katherine White (D), who is currently a professor at Wayne State University. All but one regent is from Southeast Michigan. Regent Paul Brown (D) is from Petoskey.
Many regents have considerable personal wealth and notable political connections. Regent Ron Weiser (R) founded McKinley Associates Inc., which owns several apartment properties around Ann Arbor and many commercial properties downtown, and he served as ambassador to Slovakia under President George W. Bush. Regent Denise Ilitch (D) is the heir to the Little Caesar’s pizza fortune.
Many of the regents are attorneys, with Regents Jordan Acker (D), Michael Behm (D), Bernstein, Brown, Ilitch and White all holding law degrees.
In a previous interview with The Daily, Meyers said the Flint and Dearborn campuses are undervalued, calling them “a jewel.”
The Board of Regents exercises authority over the entire University. Bishop emphasized the value of understanding the financial decisions the board makes for the University.
“I think it’s hugely important for students to be involved with the decisions that the regents make,” Bishop said. “Ultimately, this university is a huge part of us. It is our community. It’s supposed to be serving us. And if we don’t know where the money is coming from and where the money is going, that means we’re ignorant of a large part of how this university is functioning and how well the needs of different student groups on campus are really being met.”
Daily Staff Reporters Dominic Coletti and Jasmin Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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