DETROIT — The University’s Board of Regents unanimously approved Republican Gov. Rick Snyder as the Spring Commencement speaker despite opposition from thousands of University students.
Several students made the trip to the regents’ meeting here to tell the Board why they didn’t think Snyder was the right choice to deliver the commencement address on April 30 because of his proposed reductions to state higher education appropriations. However, the Board ultimately voted to approve Snyder and the other honorary degree recipients.
The decision to have Snyder give this year’s commencement speech has caused outrage among many students in light of his state budget proposal, which calls for a 15-percent funding cut to the state’s 15 public colleges and universities in the 2012 fiscal year. A cut of that size would translate into a loss of $47.5 million dollars for the University.
LSA senior Zach Goldsmith was among the handful of students who implored the regents to reconsider their votes in support of Snyder as commencement speaker.
Goldsmith said at the meeting that Snyder’s budget proposal makes him an illogical choice for commencement speaker. The proposal includes cuts to education funding and grants power to emergency financial managers, who Snyder can appoint to restore budgets in cities and school districts in fiscal distress.
“I’m not going to rattle off the facts and figures that explain the idiocy,” said Goldsmith, referring to the governor’s budget plan.
Regent Laurence Deitch (D–Bingham Farms) encouraged students to voice their opinion if they disagree with Snyder. He also noted his differing political views to the governor’s, but he said he supports Snyder as commencement speaker.
“I personally don’t agree with (Snyder’s) budget, but that’s what democracy’s about. If students wish to protest or picket, that is the greatest Michigan tradition, and we welcome that,” Deitch said.
He added, “I was born a Democrat, and I’ll die a Democrat, and last year we were all thrilled to be in Michigan Stadium when President Obama spoke — at least I was thrilled — but I think the odds are at least half the stadium didn’t vote for him … Governor Snyder was elected by a majority of Michigan.”
On Wednesday, Goldsmith led protests against Snyder on the Diag and in front of the Fleming Administration Building. About 30 protesters then marched into University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office chanting, “Rick is wrong.”
In an interview after the regents meeting, Coleman said she was aware of the protests but was “in a meeting somewhere” when the students were in her office. She said at the regents meeting that she is looking forward to Snyder speaking at the ceremony.
“We are pleased that Governor Rick Snyder has accepted our invitation to be the commencement speaker and address our graduates,” Coleman said. “His appearance continues a U of M tradition of inviting the newly elected governor to be the graduation speaker. Governors Milliken, Blanchard, Engler and Granholm all have addressed graduating classes, and Governor Snyder will extend this tradition.”
Also in attendance at the regents meeting, LSA senior Rick Durance presented the board with an online petition he started that has more than 4,000 signatures. The petition declares the signees’ opposition to Snyder as commencement speaker.
Durance said his objective with the petition was to change the University’s process of selecting the commencement speaker in upcoming years.
“We do not make this case for ourselves, the class of 2011,” Durance said. “Rather, we make this case for future students. We hope to improve the democratic processes for choosing a commencement speaker.”
Durance also suggested potential replacements for Snyder including filmmaker Spike Lee, who will be awarded an honorary degree at commencement, and CNN broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper.
Several regents said they appreciated the students’ passion. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) said she welcomes any protests against Snyder.
“I wanted to thank students,” Newman said. “We do appreciate your letting us know how you feel. It exemplifies free speech. We appreciate the speeches and the e-mails.”
Regent Olivia Maynard (D–Goodrich) expressed similar sentiments.
“I appreciate the dialogue. I appreciate their coming here to Detroit,” Maynard said. “If I was not a regent and was a student, I would have been right there with them.”
But Maynard also said the University community should respect Snyder because of his position.
“As a university, I think we should honor the role and position of the governor,” Maynard said. “I don’t have to agree with him on everything, but he is the governor of the state of Michigan.”
Goldsmith left the meeting before the regents voted to return to Ann Arbor for class, but said in an interview last night that he expected the Board’s approval of Snyder. He added that he was appreciative the regents listened to him.
“I was grateful that the regents acknowledged that I drove over an hour to speak with them,” he said.
— Daily Staff Reporter Michele Narov contributed to this report.