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The Michigan Democratic Party endorsed Katherine White (D) and Michael J. Behm (D) for re-election to the University of Michigan Board of Regents on April 9 at the 2022 State Endorsement Convention in Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center. On April 23, the Michigan Republican Party endorsed Lena Epstein (R) and Sevag Vartanian (R) at DeVos Place convention center in Grand Rapids, Mich.
White and Behm aim to retain their seats on the Board of Regents in the November 8 election, while Epstein and Vartanian’s elections would make them the third and fourth Republicans on the board.
The state of Michigan is holding an election for two of eight seats on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, two of eight seats on the University of Michigan Board of Regents and two of eight seats on the Wayne State University Board of Governors on November 8, 2022.
Article VIII § V of the Michigan Constitution provides for the election of the governing boards of three Michigan universities, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, by the citizens of Michigan. Two U-M regents — White and Behm, in 2022 — are up for election every two years. As of 2022, there are two Republicans and six Democrats on the University’s Board.
White is a professor at Wayne State University Law School and a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army National Guard. She is serving in Lansing, Mich. as the Deputy Commander of the 46 Military Police Command and was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor in 2021. White is the longest-standing Regent at the University.
Behm is president and owner of the Behm & Behm law firm and chairperson of Business Forward Michigan. He was an officer of the Michigan Association for Justice from 2008 to 2012 and served as president from 2011 to 2012. Behm succeeded former Regent Julia Donovan Darlow (D), who did not seek re-election, in 2014.
White was originally elected to the Board in 1998 and was then re-elected in 2006 and 2014. If Behm and White are re-elected, they will be serving their second and fourth eight-year terms, respectively.
Epstein attended Harvard University where she received a B.A. in economics. She graduated from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with a Master of Business Administration in 2008. Epstein is also the co-owner and general manager of Vesco Oil Corporation. She has not previously served in public office.
Vartanian is a 1991 graduate of the University of Michigan, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in actuarial mathematics. After graduating from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with an M.B.A. in finance and statistics, Vartanian has worked in the finance industry. He currently runs Vartanian Capital Management, an asset management firm.
White, Epstein and Vartanian did not respond to requests for comment from The Michigan Daily.
Jon Vaughn, a survivor of late athletic doctor Robert Anderson, announced in Nov. 2021 he would be running for the University’s Board of Regents in 2022. Vaughn also did not respond to The Daily’s requests for comment.
LSA senior Noah Zimmerman, Central Student Government (CSG) president, said maintaining a relationship between CSG and the Board is an important part of CSG’s role at the University.
“(We talk) about what we want to see for the year (and) how we can work together, but the regents are really the ones who vote on things and decide on things,” Zimmerman said. “So we’re really just trying to advocate to them, answer their questions, tell them what students have been seeing, what they want to see more of and telling them what students want to change about the University. We’re really a voice for the students to the board.”
Zimmerman said while CSG cannot endorse or support any candidate for regent, the election does have an impact on the plans and actions CSG is able to take.
“If a regent is more amenable to student decisions, they’ll probably listen to us a little bit more than some other regents,” Zimmerman said. “But right now, everyone’s there because they care about students, and they care about higher education. From the regents we’ve talked to and worked with so far, it seems like they’re all very happy to be here and work with student government. I do know that Regent White has been a strong supporter of students in the past, but you know, year after year things change.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Behm shared the key points of his campaign: affordability, accessibility, accountability and climate action. He considers the $15 minimum wage to be a policy that supports affordability on campus.
“I’ve been working with the provost and with the budget office and am very confident that we’re going to be able to pass, in this year’s budget, a $15 minimum wage for everyone on campus,” Behm said. “As you know, Ann Arbor is not a cheap town to live in. It’s very expensive, so we’ve got to work toward a living wage.”
Behm also said he has been working on taking steps toward climate action through the University since the beginning of his term.
“When I was running in 2014, we had a symposium (that) was just sort of a question and answer period of the candidates,” Behm said. “And someone said, ‘Can I see a show of hands of who would like to divest fossil fuels from the endowment?’ I was the only person that raised my hand. It turned out to be tougher than I thought it was going to be — I didn’t think it was that much of a stretch — but it was very difficult. And so that’s one thing I’m proud to have worked on because I do a lot of work in that space.”
Behm said he was surprised by 1U’s statement.
“I think I’ve met with them more than any other board member,” Behm said. “So I’m not quite sure (why 1U declined to endorse the campaign). There obviously is some failure in communication here because I think I do stand for many, if not all, the things that they stand for. I was the first regent to meet with them when they formed. I advised them that they should seek student involvement in their group.”
Bob King, intermittent LSA Residential College lecturer and co-founder of 1U, explained the process behind 1U’s statement.
“It was never really set up as an organization for endorsing candidates,” King said. “Some members of 1U got frustrated that things weren’t getting done fast enough. Right now, everybody in 1U who really appreciates (Regent Behm) realizes there was some miscommunication, misunderstanding, frustration with things not moving faster.”
Daily Summer News Editor Anna Fifelski can be reached at email@example.com.