With less than a month before the November elections, two Democratic challengers are stepping up their campaigns to unseat the two incumbent Republicans on the University’s Board of Regents.
Paul Brown (D–Ann Arbor) and Greg Stephens (D–Saline) were both nominated to run for the University’s governing board at the party’s state convention in August. Regents Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) and Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park) — the board’s only Republican members — are both seeking re-election.
In separate interviews with the Daily this week, Brown and Stephens outlined their reasons for running for the board and what they hope to accomplish if elected to the eight-year term.
Both said their main goal would be to lower current tuition rates to make the University more affordable for students.
Stephens, who unsuccessfully ran for regent against Newman and Richner in 2002, said Newman reneged on her promise not to vote to raise University tuition when she ran eight years ago.
“One of my opponents at the time made a vow that she would never vote for a tuition increase and at the very first opportunity she did,” Stephens said. “I went on record saying I can’t say I would not (raise tuition). I would not paint myself into a corner. She took the other approach and she broke that promise the very first opportunity she had.”
Stephens, the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 252, said he would bring the perspective of middle-class voters to the board.
“Middle-class families aren’t all Democratic and aren’t all Republican,” Stephens said. “But I believe that they all deserve a fair shake as residents of the state of Michigan. Those people are not represented on that board.”
Stephens continued by saying that if elected, he could use his professional experiences to help the University reduce its construction costs.
“Because I am a leader in the construction industry, I know that the University of Michigan does a tremendous amount of construction,” Stephens said. “In fact, they’re the first largest single customer in the state of Michigan, second only to the state itself, as far spending construction dollars.”
Stephens continued: “I know that with my experience I can create some savings just in that area that can be used in other areas.”
Meanwhile, Brown, vice president and head of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Capital Markets group, said he believes the regents need to use funds from the University’s endowment to support decreases in tuition and increases in financial aid disbursements.
Brown, who is also a University alum, criticized the regents for voting last July to decrease the endowment’s payout from 5 percent to 4.5 percent.
“That’s the exact wrong decision at the exact wrong time,” Brown said. “The endowment has many purposes, but one of them is a rainy day fund. It’s raining in Michigan for families of students and students.”
Brown continued, “Now would be the time to actually go deeper into the principle and shift that money to help students and their tuition, not decrease it.”
Brown also said consolidating the number of University administrators could cut costs and make lower tuition a reality.
“The liberal university administrators that put out the studies condemning the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker and how that gap has increased in the U.S. over time, as well as the comparison to Europe, well they need to look in the mirror because the exact same thing has happened in academia,” Brown said.
“Administrator pay has exponentially increased and the number of administrators has exponentially increased,” Brown continued. “We need to put a stop to it.”
Brown and Stephens each said they would work to ensure the University is part of the economic revitalization of the state.
“The University of Michigan could be a leader in turning this economy around,” Stephens said. “I believe the University can partner with other organizations across the state, leveraging the vast knowledge and skill the University has to offer. They can lead these organizations through this difficult time and develop smart partnerships.”
Both candidates also emphasized their commitment to engaging students.
“I graduated undergrad in ’96,” Brown said. “I would definitely be the youngest member of the Board of Regents. I received my MBA just a couple of years ago, so I understand the student perspective.
“I’m still paying off my student loans. So, I think my proximity to their experience will play a big role in my understanding,” he added.
Stephens and Brown will appear alongside eight other candidates — including Newman and Richner — on the statewide ballot Nov. 2. The two candidates who garner the most votes will assume their roles on the Board of Regents in January.
In an interview with the Daily last August, Newman, the senior vice president of government affairs at Delta Airlines and a University alum, said she has a number of goals she’d like to pursue if re-elected to her third term as a regent.
Specifically, Newman said she’d seek to make major capital improvements to the University’s Medical Campus, improve the University’s standing in national and international rankings and continue to pursue renovations to various residence halls across campus.
“We need to continue to update and move the institution forward to stay at the top of the pack,” Newman said at the time. “I think I can be helpful there because I’ve seen us do it, and I know what it takes to maintain excellence and grow.”
Richner, a third-generation graduate of the University, told the Daily in August that he would seek a second term to continue the work he has done throughout the past eight years.
“These efforts include reducing the University’s health care and insurance costs, being more deliberate in using and allocating space across the campus, promoting energy efficiency, seeking more disciplined budgeting from the University’s schools, colleges and other business units and selling non-productive assets,” Richner wrote in an e-mail interview at the time. “We also helped lead the most successful private fundraising campaign in the University’s history.”
— Daily News Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.