In his State of the State address, Gov. John Engler will make a number of proposals for the upcoming legislative session. One of the most controversial will be his proposal to reform the state boards in charge of education. Under his plan, the governor would appoint seven additional members to the eight elected members of the State Board of Education and the governing boards of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
Adding appointed members to these boards only subjects education in Michigan to unnecessary political influence. While the current system is not perfect it could benefit from more student, faculty and staff representation for example Engler”s proposal does nothing to improve it.
Perhaps one of the most important functions of government is education the University alone received $394 million from the state last year. With such significant taxpayer funding, the citizens of the state should elect the governing board members of the state”s biggest public universities as they currently do and have since their inception. Having independently elected regents provides higher education a needed layer of protection from shifting state politics and allows for independence and continuity within the universities while also providing voter representation.
The proposed gubernatorial appointments will also give the governor excessive power in determining the character of the governing boards. Allowing one person to appoint members will give them the unique ability to shape the boards” beliefs about specific issues affirmative action, for example. Hence a popularly elected governor could effectively pre-empt popular sentiment towards specific issues. The voters” preferences are best reflected through the election of all of the board members.
Finally, there is no clear reason why Engler”s proposed system would have any advantages over the current system. While it has been suggested that the additional members might allow for the creation of committees, there”s no evidence that having committees would improve the current system. Susan Shafer, Engler”s spokesperson, justified the plan by arguing that “a lot of people are not aware of who is running” for the governing boards. While that might be the case, many people are not aware of who is running for many other political offices, but that does not mean those offices should be appointed as well. Finally, John Truscott, another spokesperson for Engler, claims that the proposal will raise the quality of the regents. He implies that the major political parties do not nominate “quality” people to serve on these governing boards. This is a clear fallacy, drawing into question our governor”s definition of “quality.” Is it political experience and integrity, or holding the “correct” political views?
The University Board of Regents and the other university governing boards Engler is seeking to change are not appointed for a reason: These areas of large public spending and interest deserve citizen input and independence from the political whims of whoever happens to be governor at any given time. The system is not perfect and would definitely benefit from student representation, but Engler”s plan is no improvement and only seeks to achieve unclear political goals.