Incoming regent Ron Weiser is, objectively, a very nice man. When I had the opportunity to interview him several weeks ago, just before the election on Nov. 8, I was struck by how incredibly personable and well-spoken he was. His experience as a diplomat was apparent; he carried himself like a statesman, but did so with a smile on his face and a joke or anecdote at the ready. He was excited at the opportunity to engage one-on-one with a student and gave a great interview. However, none of that changes the fact that I find him to be categorically and utterly wrong on a laundry list of issues. And I’m not alone. But he’s not wrong about absolutely everything.
Just after the election, he made thoroughly inappropriate comments at a post-election analysis panel hosted by the Ford School of Public Policy. He talked about the fact that he often feels “very unwelcome on campus” as a Republican, ignoring the thousands of students who were petrified to walk to class on Nov. 9 because of their skin color, religion or sexual orientation — a statement that seems particularly whiny and clueless in consideration of the on-campus incident in which someone would feel legitimately unwelcome a few days later. He hid behind his platform as an “economic conservative” when explaining his support for Trump — because a vote for hate and indecency is OK if it’s good for your wallet — and talked about how he found it “offensive” that people could not separate his own political views from aspects of “Trumpism” that he finds despicable. This is from a member of the Trump Victory Committee, a fundraising committee for the Republican National Committee, and a man who will serve as finance vice chair for the president-elect’s inauguration.
Simply put, Ron Weiser is out of touch with the student body on a lot of issues, with one colossal exception: tuition. And if you’re an out-of-state student like me, his election presents an opportunity in an incredibly divided political climate to get something important done.
Why? Well it’s important to note first and foremost that Michiganders can get extremely protective when it comes to tuition. Every single candidate for the board, Democrat and Republican alike, campaigned on the need to keep in-state tuition low for Michigan families. This makes sense: Regents are elected by Michigan families. But it’s also problematic.
State funding for higher education took a big hit in 2011 due to budget cuts by Gov. Rick Snyder. Although with moderate increases levels have returned to what they were in 2011, the cut was poorly timed. The University of Michigan is spending like crazy: Renovating buildings, constructing new ones, continuing to rise in higher education rankings and hiring big-name coaches all at the same time is a costly exercise. And for the most part, it has been on the backs of out-of-state students, most of whom pay very high tuition.
I know what you’re thinking. Michigan families have been paying taxes to the state, and therefore into the University, for years, and so it’s fair that out-of-staters pay more. And I knew what I was getting myself into from the start. You’re right. But three times more and rising? With tuition hikes every year since I stepped foot on campus? Is that still fair?
And here’s where Ron Weiser comes in. In his platform, he posits that you “wouldn’t purchase a home without knowing your cost over the term of your loan, and you shouldn’t go to school without knowing the cost of your degree.” As regent, Weiser wants to guarantee that the price tag on your degree when you walk into orientation is the same price tag you see when you walk at graduation. For all students, and especially for middle-class out-of-staters who don’t qualify for financial aid — look left and right, you’re likely sitting next to one of them — that would be a huge and important step in the fight for affordable higher education.
Tuition at the University has increased by 91 percent since 2003 — not accounting for inflation — to the tune of about $26,000 for out-of-state students. Slowly but surely, middle-class students from around the country are being priced out of going here with rising costs, too little financial aid and a refusal to raise in-state tuition by any substantial amount. By the way, these are students who contribute greatly to our university community, whose test scores and tuition and theses are helping to improve the school we love — contributions that benefit future Michiganders, by the way.
So, while I’m more than happy to stand in opposition to Ron Weiser on any number of issues — to protest in the Diag or change my Facebook profile picture or walk out of class if necessary — it’s time to recognize that when it comes to tuition, Weiser could help make real progress. A regent with his position on tuition is rare. Out-of-staters, this guy, as flawed and out of touch as he may be, is pretty much our only hope that tuition isn’t $70,000 by 2025. Or, we can turn our nose up at him because of the R next to his name on the ballot and watch as a college degree becomes a privilege of the uber-wealthy and the abyss that is student debt grows deeper and deeper every year. Instead, I choose as a starting point the fact that Ron Weiser is, objectively, a very nice man.
Brett Graham can be reached at email@example.com.