Regent Larry Deitch (D–Bloomfield Hills) is finishing his 24th year on the University of Michigan Board of Regents — and hoping for eight more. As Deitch looks to kick off his campaign for a fourth term, though, he emphasizes the quality of his experience over his resume’s length.
“People who know me know I’m not a status quo kind of person,” he said. “Experience is invaluable, but it’s not a special knowledge or window. I’m not going to get too nostalgic.”
Deitch will be up for re-election as a Democratic candidate for regent on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. An attorney by trade with Bodman PLC, a law firm in Detroit, as a regent he has been heavily involved in campaigns surrounding inclusion — namely, by leading a successful effort in 1993 to include “sexual orientation” on the University’s non-discrimination statement. Deitch has also had a role in the selection of the two most recent University presidents, Mary Sue Coleman and Mark Schlissel.
Deitch’s opponent, Republican businessman Ronald Weiser, is a former ambassador to Slovakia, and also boasts a long relationship with the University, sponsoring his namesake Center for Europe and Eurasia, and the Center for Emerging Democracies. He has run for the position unsuccessfully before.
In an interview, Deitch said he deems Weiser’s political views fundamentally “incompatible” with the University. He highlighted Weiser’s affiliation with the state Republican party and current position as vice chair to the finance committee responsible for raising fund for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign in Michigan. He also referred to recent weeks of incidents around campus climate, in which students protested over flyers targeting Black, LGBTQ and Muslim individuals — which he said stemmed from from the current political climate.
“What I’m focused on in this moment is defeating Donald Trump and Trumpism,” Deitch said. “It clearly influenced attitudes, some of which manifested with the racist posters. I will use my position (as regent) as a bully pulpit to call campus together.”
Citing his experience with the sexual orientation inclusion campaign, Deitch said he stands in full support of Schlissel’s current Diversity, Equity & Inclusion strategic plan, which was released last week.
“President Schlissel is committed to excellence, and he’s going to lead us forward,” he said. “We as a board will continue efforts to make the University inclusive and welcome.”
Deitch also cites balancing restraint on raising tuition while providing good resources as a hallmark of his tenure. Student affordability and lack of business acumen are Weiser’s main criticism of the current board. This summer, the Regents approved a 3.9 percent hike in in-state tuition and a 4.4 percent increase for out-of-state students, continuing a trend of increasing costs for students. Tuition revenue has gone up by $800 million since 2002, but University officials point to both decreased state funding and a simultaneous expansion in financial aid availability as reasons for the increase.
Deitch said he is committed to keeping tuition as low as possible while also aiming to broaden the socioeconomic base of the University, mentioning what he calls productivity improvements, like more Friday classes and boosting spring and summer term enrollment.
“We’ve been wise stewards of the money … and this business has been run pretty damn well,” he said, in reference to Weiser’s stated mission to “run the University as a business.”
Relationships among regents currently, Deitch said, are good — he answered a phone call from Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D–Grosse Pointe) halfway through the interview, laughing about the interruption.
“You’d think that was planned,” he said. “But really, we have a nice group chemistry on the board now, with a collegial mix of backgrounds and institutional memory.”
While both Deitch and Weiser have experience in different capacities with the University, the candidates are beginning to toe party lines — Weiser stresses business ideals while Deitch is focused on diversity and inclusion. Deitch is also looking to launch a new kind of social media campaign in an online landscape, drastically different from his last race in 2008.
Deitch acknowledged the partisan nature of the campaign, but said party divisions will fall aside after the election.
“We are who we are, but once we are here (on the board), our actions aren’t typically partisan,” he said. “I have a deep respect for my Republican colleagues.”