As Andrea Fischer Newman enters her second term on the University Board of Regents and Andrew Richner becomes its newest member, a growing financial challenge underscores the importance of their positions and promises to become their main focus in 2003.
Richner, an attorney from Grosse Pointe Park, was sworn in Jan. 1, two days after casting his last votes as a state representative. Unable to attend the inauguration, Newman, an Ann Arbor resident and Northwest Airlines’ senior vice president for government affairs, was sworn in Dec. 29.
The two Republicans defeated their Democratic opponents, Greg Stephens and Ismael Ahmed, in November — an election so narrow that Stephens postponed his concession until votes were certified two weeks later. The victories of Newman and Richner allowed the Board of Regents to maintain its political makeup of five Democrats and three Republicans, despite GOP Regent Daniel Horning’s decision to forego reelection.
In the opening months of their eight-year terms, Newman and Richner will be two of the eight people who ultimately decide how the University will weather the budgetary storm likely to be on the horizon if state government cuts funding for higher education.
Both regents said their highest priority for the new year is to address budget cuts without having to send students the bill.
“Tuition increases ought to be a last resort,” Richner said. “I vowed in my campaign to not support tuition increases beyond the rate of inflation. I don’t think in these economic times that that is an appropriate response.”
He said the University must reign in costs and seek greater efficiency to soften the blow of state cuts.
Michigan faces an estimated deficit for the 2003-2004 budget year of more than $1 billion, making cuts likely in most areas of state government — even in funding to colleges and universities, which were often protected in the past. The state made no change last year in higher education appropriations, but cut them by 2 percent last month to balance its budget.
The University boosted tuition by 7.9 percent in its most recent budget, and it is uncertain if cuts will lead to a greater increase. Newman was the only regent to vote against the tuition hike.
“We have to find ways to not only manage the budget but to make sure we don’t put any shortfall on the back of students,” Newman said.
The University currently faces challenges that Newman did not have to worry about after her first election, she said.
“In my first term we had a great economy, increasing appropriations every year and the ability to do a lot of things. Those things, like the life sciences, are well on their way to completion,” she said. “We have more to do but we’ll have fewer resources to do it with.”
Among Richner’s goals as he joins the board are encouraging local economic development and creating greater cooperation between the University and Detroit, he said.
He is also concerned by the events that have unfolded since Michigan basketball booster Ed Martin admitted he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to four former players. The threat of possible NCAA sanctions hangs over the University, which imposed sanctions on itself that include paying $450,000 to the NCAA and forfeiting games it won a decade ago.
Richner said the system that led to those sanctions is unfair, and the regents should do all they can to encourage changes to the NCAA sanctioning process.
“It is unfair, I think, to punish the innocent while the guilty run free,” he said. “While (former Michigan basketball player) Chris Webber is making millions and millions, the University pays the costs of transgressions that occurred years ago.”
With the University in the national spotlight as it awaits a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the legality of its use of race in admissions, Richner said he is pleased a standard will soon be set.
He said he supports the goal of achieving a diverse student body, which University officials cite as the reason for using race as part of its admissions criteria. But he also said he is concerned that the policies may be different in name only from the racial quotas that the Court ruled unconstitutional.
“If it’s not a quota, it comes dangerously close, and I think the Court is going to provide needed clarification on what is a quota,” Richner said.
Newman has said in the past that the University should strive for diversity while upholding its academic standards.