Members of the University’s Board of Regents convened in the Michigan Union on Thursday afternoon for their monthly public meeting. In January, the regents also met in Ann Arbor, but in place of an open meeting, they gathered for closed strategy sessions.

In a January interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said the retreat focused on philosophical discussions around what it means to be an excellent university and to brainstorm ways in which the University can continue to improve. He said the regents continue to bring an important perspective to the University’s policy-making process.

“The regents are incredibly engaged in the governance of the University,” he said. “They’re really the connection between professional academics like me and this huge public that we serve.”

In an e-mail interview after the strategic session, Regent Katherine White (D–Ann Arbor) noted that no official decisions were made at these meetings, but said the session gave the board a chance to focus on broad topics related to higher education.

“The retreat contrasts with our monthly meetings, which are focused on the topics that need immediate attention,” White said. “Our strategic session was a good opportunity to focus on the future of higher education. It also gave us a chance to welcome new regent Michael Behm and get to know him better.”

Apart from White, no other regents were available for comment for this article. Five regents did not respond to e-mail inquires from the Daily. Regents Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) and Larry Deitch (D–Grosse Pointe) declined interview requests due to scheduling conflicts.

White said the closed strategic session provides the board a chance to speak openly about how to improve the University, an opportunity not afforded at the monthly meetings.

“Again, this is our one chance a year to turn our attention to asking ‘What if?’ types of questions and to step away from the topics that demand our attention on a monthly basis,” White said. “It is good governance to have an opportunity to do a little blue-sky thinking and have very candid discussions.”

This is the third year the regents opted to replace their January public session with closed door meetings. In 2013, the regents traveled to California where they met with officials from Stanford University, the University of California and Google. Last year, the board gathered in New York City to hear from several higher education officials, including the president of Yale University.

This time, the regents chose to remain in Ann Arbor.

“This meeting is internally focused and we will neither be meeting with outside speakers nor traveling outside the state of Michigan,” Regent Kathy White (D–Ann Arbor) wrote in a January e-mail interview. “Instead, this session is to give the Board an opportunity to have long-term strategic sessions with our new President, Dr. Mark Schlissel.”

In a 2013 interview with The Ann Arbor News, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said “a scheduling issue” prevented holding both that year’s California trip and the regularly scheduled January public meeting.

“It falls in the week when these people’s schedules were already set aside for a board of regents meeting,” he said in 2013. “They decided to take that time that was already in their schedules and handle that differently.”

In subsequent years, the regents have continued to hold a January strategic session in place of a public meeting.

This year, Schlissel said the group discussed efforts to diversify campus. He noted the University’s long-standing goal to diversify but said the current strategies must be improved.

“It really is fair to say that there has been a long-term commitment to diversity at the University of Michigan, I think the record is really clear,” Schlissel said. “The problem is, our success hasn’t matched our aspirations despite peoples serious efforts and serious commitments.”

On Monday, Schlissel held a leadership breakfast on diversity, where he gathered input from attendees and emphasized his administration’s commitment to inclusion and equity. He also mentioned the University’s ongoing efforts to compose a campus-wide diversity plan, a project which he said is slated for release in the spring.

“One (component) is working on undergraduate admission and recruitment,” he said. “So we have to reach out and find talented students in all different parts of our state and parts of our country without regard for their socioeconomic, racial, ethnic background.”

In addition to diversity, Schlissel said discussions touched on possible improvements to the individual schools and colleges and methods for increasing accessibility and affordability of higher education.

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