Attorney Mike Behm, one of the Democratic candidates for the University’s Board of Regents, is running on a platform of decreasing tuition to make the University more accessible and working to increase collaboration with the University’s satellite campuses in Flint and Dearborn.
In November, Behm will compete for one of two spots on the eight-member Board of Regents. One of the open slots will be vacated by University Regent Julia Darlow (D–Ann Arbor), who has opted to not seek another term. The other is currently held by Regent Kathy White (D–Ann Arbor), who is up for re-election. Two Republicans, Dr. Rob Steele and Ron Weiser, a former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, are also seeking election. Regents are popularly elected by voters from across the state of Michigan.
A Flint native, Behm moved to Ann Arbor in 1985 to study English at the University. Active on campus, he wrote for The Michigan Daily and sang in the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, the second oldest club in the country, and eventually sang a capella with the renowned group The Friars.
After graduation, he attended law school at Wayne State University in Detroit and currently works as a litigator in Flint.
Recognized by the American Trial Lawyers Association as one of the top 100 lawyers in Michigan, Behm also served as president of the trade association Michigan Association for Justice in 2011.
“The mission of that group is to protect peoples’ Seventh Amendment rights, to be able to have a jury in front of their peers,” Behm said. “I think that’s something that’s very important.”
Before deciding to run for regent, Behm was an active member of the Democratic Party for much of his adult life. In 1996 he worked as a volunteer lawyer for the Clinton campaign, and in 2004 he created programs to educate citizens about elections to discourage voter intimidation and urge people to vote. He also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Behm said he decided to run for regent on a platform of making college more affordable and accessible statewide.
In terms of affordability, he said his first initiative would be to decrease the recent trend of the University’s budget being covered more by tuition and endowment and less by the state. He said if the state bears more of the costs, tuition could decrease.
“I would like to see the state of Michigan reinvest in the University of Michigan and in public education,” he said.
Closely linked to the cost of higher education, Behm said affordability could be improved by increasing access to need-based loans. Currently, one-third of students attending the state’s 15 public universities receive need-based loans, yet, according to Behm, only 12 percent of University students receive this type of aid.
“I do not think that is an accurate reflection of the picture of what the student body should be here,” he said. “That needs to be fixed.”
To improve affordability, Behm said the University could tap into its endowment — which reached an all-time high of $9.7 billion in the 2014 fiscal year — to keep costs low and could also look to federal legislation to lower the borrowing rate for student loans.
As a Flint native who works in the city, Behm said he also feels a responsibility to advocate for the University’s satellite campuses in Flint and Dearborn.
Though the two campuses have typically been less residential than Ann Arbor, Behm noted how when a dorm was built for the first time at Flint in 2009, it immediately filled to capacity. He linked this to a changing culture of satellite campuses and their potential to grow in the near future.
“Those campuses really offer an opportunity for the University of Michigan to interact with the students and communities of Flint and Dearborn,” he said.
With respect to diversity, Behm said the University must work toward increasing racial diversity on campus, but within the boundaries of Proposal 2, the 2006 voter initiative that banned the consideration of race in admissions, among other factors. He said the percentage of Black students that make up the student body is far less than the number of Black citizens in the state.
“This is a public University; it serves the mission and the people of our entire state, not just some of the people,” he said. “We need to fix that problem.”
Behm also expressed a willingness to work with students to make the activities and decisions of University administrators more transparent. In July, The Detroit Free Press sued the University for violating the Open Meetings Act, arguing that the Board of Regents makes most of its decisions in private.
Behm said he plans to meet with students and faculty regularly during his tenure on the board, noting that the best way to bring a perspective of the issues facing students and faculty is to interact with them directly.
“That’s what makes an institution work, is open communication,” he said.