Can you name a regent? University of Michigan students stumped

Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 1:10pm

U-M Regents Paul Brown (left) and Jordan Acker (middle) speak with Michigan State Rep. Yousef Rabhi in 2018.

U-M Regents Paul Brown (left) and Jordan Acker (middle) speak with Michigan State Rep. Yousef Rabhi in 2018. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

With Election Day less than three weeks away and the presidential race getting more contentious, some University of Michigan students are unaware of a race closer to home — the University’s Board of Regents elections.

The board is composed of eight members elected to eight-year rotating terms, with two seats up for grabs every two years. This year, Mark Bernstein (D) and Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) are running for reelection against Sarah Hubbard (R), Carl Meyers (R) and third-party candidates. The Michigan State Constitution grants the board “general supervision” of the University and control of all its finances. The board approves all official University policies and hires executive officers, including the president. 

The Michigan Daily spoke to 16 students Tuesday on the Diag to see what they knew about the regents and the upcoming elections. 

Though all of the students eligible to vote were registered, and some had already voted in the state of Michigan, only four said they were aware of the election for the Board of Regents.

Half of the students could not provide an answer as to what a regent is or one thing a regent does. Many, like Engineering freshman Neha Dwibhashyam, were vaguely familiar with their stature at the top of the University hierarchy.

“They’re responsible for — they’re University leaders,” Dwibhashyam said.

Others, like LSA junior Emma Springsteen, recognized the regents’ financial powers. 

“I think they control where our endowment goes, or where our funds go,” Springsteen said. 

Music, Theatre & Dance senior May Tang mistook the board for the University’s Faculty Senate.

“They did the vote of no confidence, right?” Tang said. “For Mark Schlissel?”

While the Faculty Senate passed a vote of no confidence in University President Mark Schlissel’s leadership last month, the board reiterated their support for Schlissel’s administration in their public meeting the next day.

LSA junior Matthew Neubacher said he thought the board was a “secret committee” Schlissel sits on. In fact, the board meets publicly 10 times a year and is subject to the state of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. Schlissel is an “ex-officio” member who presides over meetings, but he is not elected and doesn’t get a vote on the board. 

The board has many high-profile members. Regent Ron Weiser’s (R) name graces University buildings and programs due to his tens of millions of dollars in donations, Regent Mark Bernstein (D) is president of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm and Regent Denise Illitch’s (D) family has owned the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings for decades. Yet, only one student could name a regent: LSA junior Sam Braden, who named five. 

Neubacher mistook the University’s provost for a regent.

“Collins — there’s a Susan Collins, isn’t there?” Neubacher said. 

When shown pictures of Schlissel and Weiser and asked to point to the elected regent, most students recognized Schlissel as University president and correctly picked Weiser by default. LSA freshman Ryan Kim and Music, Theatre & Dance junior Kevin Sung selected Schlissel’s picture as the regent. None of the students recognized Weiser. 

Given further details on the regents’ roles and powers, students offered reasons to care about who’s on the board and what they do. Engineering freshman Jill Pollon said the regents “control basically everything” at the University. 

“It’s important that we know who’s on it, what they stand for, their past, what they’re fighting for,” Pollon said. 

LSA sophomore Fernanda Medici Sousa said she associated the board with this summer’s controversial tuition increase, which passed in a special meeting after two regents switched their votes. 

“It directly impacts us, and tuition is very important — it went up this year even with COVID, and I know that affected a lot of people,” Medici Sousa said. 

Neubacher said it’s important to know about the regents because their decisions affect students’ day-to-day lives. 

“Often we’re not really aware of what decisions they’re making or how to advocate for new positions,” Neubacher said. “If we’re active in voting, then that’s the first step to being more engaged as students in the types of decisions that regents make.”

Daily Staff Reporter Calder Lewis can be reached at calderll@umich.edu


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