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The University of Michigan Board of Regents honored outgoing Regent Laurence Deitch (D) with the title of Regent Emeritus at their December meeting, the last of Deitch’s 24 years of service.
Deitch, first elected in 1992, was unseated in his November bid for re-election by Republican candidate Ronald Weiser, longtime University philanthropist and former ambassador to Slovakia.
Regent Katherine White (D) presented the board with the resolution to make Deitch the University’s 16th Regent Emeritus. Deitch received a long standing ovation from the regents, executive officers and audience members, holding back tears as he addressed the regents.
“The University of Michigan is better today than it was 24 years ago,” he said. “It has given me much more than I have it … I will miss you all very much.”
Every member of the board joined in praising Deitch for his work on issues of diversity, accessibility and maintaining the regents’ governmental autonomy. Newly re-elected Regent Denise Ilitch (D) praised Deitch for performing “God’s work” in his tenure and on the campaign trail this year.
“In navigating the political process, I admire you so much,” Ilitch said. “I find you to be incredibly passionate about the University, making sure everyone is represented and speaking out for those who cannot.”
Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) reflected on the significance of Deitch’s long time on the board.
“You have taught me so much about respecting the history of the University,” she said. “You’ve consistently been an advocate for students, staff and faculty, and an advocate for fiscal responsibility.”
University alum Jim Toy, an LGBTQ activist, joined in honoring Deitch with a gift to the University Musical Society that will bring the Budapest Festival Orchestra to Hill Auditorium later this spring. In his remarks, Toy remembered Deitch’s 1993 successful push to include gender identity and sexuality in the University’s non-discrimination policy, a measure the outgoing regent has called his “most important” work on the board.
“Regent Deitch knows and sets forth his heart as an advocate for human and civil rights for people of every gender identity, expression and sexual orientation,” Toy said. “Regent Deitch spoke out forcefully, and forcefully is an understatement.”
White also proposed a renovation of the historic Inglis House in honor of Deitch, who has supported similar projects before, but it was met with a 4-4 deadlock vote as both regents and University officers questioned the high costs of a remodeling. The Inglis House was donated to the University in 1951 and serves as a private guest house and residence for regents visiting from off campus.
The regents weighed the proposed costs of $4.6 million in building expenses and $530,000 in annual operation fees in what became one of the longest discussions on an agenda item this school year. Regent Mike Behm (D) noted his appreciation of the gesture in honor of Deitch, but struggled with the long-term value of the renovation to the campus community at large.
“A few of us on the board might still have trouble finding where Inglis House is,” he said. “It’s not used on a daily basis, won’t be used on a daily basis with this proposal … that is money much better spent lowering the cost of this University.”
University President Mark Schlissel noted officers did not come prepared with adequate information for the supplemental item, but said he welcomed future proposals for the building.
LSA senior David Schafer, Central Student Government president, also commended Deitch’s service to accessibility and affordability for students and presented him with a commemorative spirit blanket, which he graciously received.
“This is perfect for a retiree,” Deitch laughed.
During his reelection campaign, Deitch criticised Weiser’s alleged support of President-elect Donald Trump, labeling it antithetical to the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan released in October. Weiser served as a vice chair to the finance committee for the Trump campaign, and will serve on Trump’s inauguration committee.
“What I’m focused on in this moment is defeating Donald Trump and Trumpism,” Deitch said in an October interview with the Daily. “I will use my position (as regent) as a bully pulpit to call campus together.”
Weiser, who focused his campaign platform on tuition affordability. He has repeatedly defended his support of Trump, most recently at a Nov. 11 panel analyzing post-election results.
“We all make choices, and I’m an economic conservative, and I think that some of the things that I believe in are fundamental and I don’t believe that they’re being promoted in order to take advantage of the disadvantaged,” Weiser said during the panel.