In June 2020, the One University Coalition held a rally outside the downtown Flint office of University of Michigan Regent Michael Behm (D). One University is a movement aimed at increasing equity across the three campuses of the University of Michigan. Our coalition rallied to demand accountability from an elected official with deep ties to the city of Flint who we believed had not done enough to advance key equity priorities. One of these priorities — the Go Blue Guarantee — offered free tuition to lower-income, in-state students on the Ann Arbor campus but not at Dearborn and Flint.
Regent Behm didn’t show up for work that day.
Not showing up for Dearborn and Flint has been a hallmark of his time in office. Don’t get us wrong, Regent Behm dutifully peppers praise for the Flint campus into his occasional public remarks. He has managed to meet with student and faculty members of the One University Coalition a few times in the almost four years we have been organizing. During these conversations, Regent Behm made a number of promises — such as support for the liberal arts in Flint and Dearborn — but his follow-through has fallen far too short.
And Regent Behm hasn’t shown up in the ways that are most important. He has not championed our cause, which — as a prominent member of the Flint community and purported advocate for the campus — he should share. He has not used his vote to reject the devastating cuts to Flint and Dearborn.
Just in the last five years, these campuses have lost programs in Applied Music, Africana Studies and English Literature among others. Scores of Flint and Dearborn lecturers were laid off during a deadly pandemic, even as the University added $5 billion to its endowment. And another policy One University has urged Regent Behm to champion — a true Go Blue Guarantee across the three campuses — has resulted in a watered-down scholarship that excludes a large proportion of income-eligible students on the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
In politics, actions speak louder than words. In June 2020, Regent Behm was not among the four regents who stepped up to reject the administration’s budget because it did not contain enough funding for the regional campuses. Those regents ensured that an extra $10 million was allocated to University of Michigan-Flint and University of Michigan-Dearborn. Where was Regent Behm then? He was touting the existing budget while the Flint campus laid off dozens of lecturers and prepared for COVID-19-induced financial stresses completely on its own.
Democracy cannot function unless public officials are accountable to the public. Across our society, we see individuals and groups who no longer believe in our system’s ability to address people’s concerns. This breeds a nihilism that is toxic to a democratic society. Electoral democracy only works when elected officials follow through on key promises and represent their constituents. Absent this, the very idea of political engagement is undermined. Until Regent Behm holds himself to this standard, we cannot support his candidacy for another eight-year term.
No one regent can single-handedly change University policy. Yet, in the absence of funding to support students, staff, faculty and key programs on our campuses, Regent Behm could have taken a public stand. Too often he has been silent. We see no way that we can support him unless he becomes far more vocal on these issues between now and next year and pairs his rhetoric with real action. In the meantime, we will be working to find alternatives to supporting his candidacy.
Jacob Lederman is an Associate Professor of Sociology at UM-Flint and a member of the One University Coalition Steering Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com. Logan Smith is a Senior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and a member of the One University Coalition Steering Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.