Ten candidates are vying for two open seats on the University’s Board of Regents. At the forefront of the race are Democratic candidates Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs and Republican candidates Rob Steele and Dan Horning. In endorsement interviews with The Michigan Daily, all four candidates placed the greatest emphasis on tuition rates and the University’s accessibility to prospective students.
Horning believes his previous term as regent from 1995 to 2002 offers him a fresh perspective that puts him in a unique position to correct the mistakes he alleges were made by the current regents.
“Having sat at the table, and dealt with the needs and the intricacies and the workings of the University of Michigan, I’ve now spent 10 years” involved in a variety of ways with the University, said Horning.
Horning says the regents’ decision to support a group of graduate student research assistants who wanted the right to unionize was one of the greatest missteps made in his absence. He views it as an example of the board overstepping its bounds, since University President Mary Sue Coleman, Provost Philip Hanlon and a majority of the University’s deans opposed the measure.
The decision, Horning alleges, was the first step toward a “slippery slope” that could lead to further abuses of power by the University community.
Though Horning’s enthusiasm and background as a former regent couple well with his goal to curb the University’s rising tuition, his vehement stance against unionization is troubling. Furthermore, many of his ideas lack a clear focus. He has several viable ideas that include tuition refunds for students who stay in-state to work and a cap on tuition increases, but vaguely suggested that funding these projects involved “better utilizing the endowment.”
Republican candidate Rob Steele, a cardiologist and University alum, placed a similar emphasis on retaining Michigan’s talent by proposing tuition refunds for students studying science, technology, engineering and math concentrations who stay in Michigan for five years or more after graduating. He also said the endowment should be invested in students’ financial aid options and, like Horning, feels in-state students should take precedent, since there’s incentive to reject highly qualified in-state applicants in favor of higher tuition rates garnered from out-of-state students.
However, Steele’s dismissal of social issues such as tuition equality for undocumented students and his inordinate focus on STEM concentrators at the expense of other students hampered his eligibility as a candidate. It simply doesn’t encourage across-the-board accessibility to focus on only one demographic of the student population. Furthermore, his suggestion that the University require two terms dedicated to the study of America, including the study of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, implies an excessively nationalist bent.
Democrat Shauna Ryder Diggs said her greatest strength is the ability to facilitate agreement amid fierce opposition. Though she was unaware of a variety of special interest issues raised by students at the University, including the Coalition for Tuition Equality, she positions herself as a flexible candidate, able to listen and wisely mediate discussion to find solutions to divisive campus issues.
Furthermore, Diggs acknowledged the board’s role in appointing the next University president, since Coleman’s contract expires in 2014. She underscored the importance of the decision with the desire to appoint a president who isn’t “a top-down administrative type.” Ryder Diggs instead prefers a “ground-up consensus-builder.”
Though attorney Mark Bernstein shared his fellow candidates’ concerns for the University’s financial welfare and accessibility to eligible students, the precision and efficiency of his message raised him above other contenders. Where the rhetoric of many candidates is full of baseless promises and abstractions, Bernstein said he isn’t content with simply identifying problems. During his appeal for the Daily’s endorsement, he outlined the most empirically researched, comprehensive and realistic plan possible to ensure the University’s continued economic viability and accessibility to low-income students.
The research Bernstein presents is as honest as it is compelling. Following recent tuition trends established over the last decade, “tuition for a child born today in Michigan will be over $300,000 by the time they’re old enough to go to college,” Bernstein said.
“That is unsustainable, and it’s completely unacceptable,” he added.
Bernstein’s experience with investment banking makes him especially qualified to address the significant burden of student debt. He said the University should expand the functionality of its AAA credit rating and 2.3-percent interest rate it borrows under to construct “buildings, hospitals and stadiums” by “passing along” the savings to students, allowing them to borrow money for their education at unprecedentedly low interest rates. The average student would save about $5,000 on their college education under Bernstein’s plan, he said.
He also suggested offering lower rates for classes that were held during periods of low facility utilization. Students who take classes in the early morning, evening, weekend, spring and summer would enjoy lower tuition rates, since their classes occur when the University’s resources (electricity, water, etc.) are at their lowest utilization rates.
Horning and Steele’s desire to keep students in the state and decrease tuition costs are admirable, but their lack of flexibility regarding issues such as tuition equality, unionization and minority enrollment was disconcerting. Worse yet, their best ideas for making the University more financially viable were undermined by their reliance on the University’s $7.8 billion endowment.
Bernstein explained that since most of the endowment money is supplied by donors with special interests, the University can’t legally use the endowment as a default source of funding for investments and other financial initiatives. It took him less than a minute to invalidate his opponents’ most thoughtful plans.
Therefore, vote Mark Bernstein, the most studied and well-prepared candidate, and Shauna Ryder Diggs for the University Board of Regents. Though Diggs’ flexible, even-minded approach to the regent position makes her a suitable candidate, the Detroit Free Press asserted that her nomination may be the result of a deal struck by departing Regent S. Martin Taylor — her father-in-law — and the labor unions that influence the party nominating conventions. Shauna Ryder Diggs receives our endorsement for the second open seat, but not overwhelmingly.