Democrats and Republicans select Board of Regents nominees at state conventions

Sunday, August 28, 2016 - 3:51pm

Michigan’s Democratic and Republican parties nominated their respective candidates for the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents at state conventions Friday and Saturday.

Current regents Denise Ilitch and Laurence Deitch were re-nominated as the two Democratic candidates. Ron Weiser, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, and Carl Meyers, a financial advisor in Dearborn, were nominated for the two GOP slots.

Ilitch and Deitch have served on the board for eight and 24 years, respectively. Weiser, who recently donated $50 million to U of M to renovate Weiser Hall, formerly known as Dennison, also mounted an unsuccessful run for regent in 2014. He is currently involved in the 2016 presidential race, as the Michigan finance vice chair for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee’s fundraising operation. Meyers has also run unsuccessfully for regent several times.

All four candidates have identified rising tuition costs are key focuses of their campaigns, with differing approaches on how U of M and the state should work to lower them.

In a February interview with The Michigan Daily after he announced his intention to run for regent, Weiser said the main focuses of his campaign would be reducing tuition costs and opposition to the University’s current policy of providing in-state tuition to undocumented students. He stressed his business background, as the founder of prominent real estate investment firm McKinley Associates Inc, as crucial to accomplishing his goals.

“I think this is a great University,” Weiser said at the time. “It’s well run, but there’s always room for improvement, and having a business perspective is an added perspective that they don’t have right now.”

Meyers has also cited tuition restraint in previous campaigns, additionally suggesting that too many U of M students currently come from out of state.  

Ilitch, one of the Democratic candidates and former president of Ilitch Enteprises, is the only individual with a business background currently on the board. According to her campaign website, her focuses will be on lowering the cost of tuition, increasing state aid to U of M and decreasing student debt.

“As a regent, I've consistently voted against raising tuition because I know how overwhelming it can be,” Ilitch’s website says. “We as a University must be able to provide a world-class education without crippling our students in the process. That means lower tuition, more student support, and better financing for students who do take out loans.

In a note to supporters earlier this month, Deitch, a partner in Detroit law firm Bodman PLC, cited his work to defend the University’s affirmative action policies, advocate for free speech and ensure both tuition restraint and necessary funds for campus resources.

“The world needs a very great University of Michigan — a legendary institution that brings pride and innovation to our state and remains forever accessible and inviting to the Leaders and Best, from wherever they come,” he wrote.

All regents are elected by statewide vote for eight-year terms, with two positions up for a vote every other year. Currently, the board has six Democratic regents and two Republican regents. Over the past few years, though many state-level offices in Michigan such as governor and attorney general have shifted to GOP control, state education and university governing boards have largely stayed under Democratic control.

That resistance to the overall trend was a theme at Republican convention, with several candidates and officials stressing that it was time for the GOP to take control of University boards.

Bill Runco, a candidate for the state board of education who nominated Meyers for regent, emphasized in particular that support for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump would help down-ballot GOP races.

“It’s time to take the University of Michigan back, and put a solid conservative on the board,” Runco said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “If we don’t elect Donald Trump, we don’t elect anyone on this ticket.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.