LANSING — Two prominent Democrats received their party’s nomination at the Michigan Democratic Party Convention Saturday for the two open seats on the University Board of Regents.
Laurence Deitch, a two-term incumbent seeking re-election for another eight-year term, is joined by Denise Ilitch, a government relations lawyer and magazine publisher, on the Democratic ticket.
The Republican Party nominated two University alums at their convention Aug. 22 for the eight-person Board: Susan Brown, who lost a regental bid in 2006, and John LaFond.
Regent Rebecca McGowan, another Democrat and two-year incumbent, chose not to seek re-election.
All four candidates expressed a desire to maintain excellence at the University, keep costs low and work with Michigan businesses to stimulate the state’s economy and improve educational resources.
Over the course of his two terms, Deitch was an outspoken critic of the Michigan Stadium expansion and a staunch supporter of the University’s affirmative action policy before the passage of the statewide ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action.
He counted his work on the addition of sexual orientation as a protected category in the University’s non-discrimination policy as a significant accomplishment, along with the addition of domestic partner benefits for University employees.
Deitch said the University will be key to the Michigan’s economic rejuvenation, which is why he said he’d like to see continued work with other state universities and businesses to produce new technology.
Deitch, who said he is not likely to seek a fourth term if he wins in November, said he wants to keep the University affordable and accessible to University students.
Part of making sure talented students can attend the University regardless of their family’s economic circumstances, Deitch said, is making sure the University’s commitment to financial aid increases with tuition.
“Every year when I have to vote on the cost of next year’s tuition, I’m very cognizant of what it means to our students and their families,” Deitch said. “It would be very disingenuous to say it’s not going to go up.”
Disingenuous, Deitch said, because of the numerous factors that go into the process of drafting the budget. He cited the inconsistency of state funding and the cost of maintaining a high-caliber faculty as reasons why tuition increases are necessary.
A member of the family that owns the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza, Ilitch said she wants the University to be affordable for every qualified student.
Ilitch said she’d like to look into state tuition freezes adopted in other areas of the country.
“I would like to focus on strengthening financial aid and having a restraint on tuition increases,” Ilitch said. “For some it’s affordable and accessible, and for some it’s not,” Ilitch said. “With the rising costs of tuition, I think it is taking some students out of the game.”
In addition to looking at possible tuition freezes, Ilitch said she’d like to look at increasing University revenue streams and using the endowment to curb college costs.
“Many times when running large organizations, it’s very easy to just raise costs,” Ilitch said. “I’m a revenue person, so I’d like to be able to have the opportunity to look for more revenue streams.”
Ilitch said she was interested in expanding the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations and creating a school of labor at the University.
“It would allow those students to learn more about labor and, I think, in the long run, can then bring partnerships between labor and business,” Ilitch said. “Because, at the end of the day, we all have to work together.”
For LaFond, running for regent is an opportunity to make the University a more vibrant institution, “one that is able to deal better with the pressures of financing education today,” she said.
LaFond, who earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and an MBA from the University, said he’d like to evaluate the University’s budgetary goals and look for new ways to control costs to keep tuition down.
“To my way of thinking, if we’re able to do a better job of tackling some of the cost that the university is experiencing, energy, insurance, salaries, to bring down that bottom line, those are the expenses the university needs to meet,” LaFond said.
LaFond, a retired Ford engineer and administrator, said he’d like to see the University increase its partnerships with Michigan industries.
“I’d like to find new and innovative ways to keep students who graduate from the University of Michigan in the state of Michigan,” he said.
Part of doing that, he said, would be expanding the University’s Business Engagement Center. He said he wouldn’t want to direct more of University funds to the program, but rather seek funding from Michigan businesses.
LaFond said he vastly expanded the University’s partnership with Ford Motor Company about seven years ago to improve technology transfer between University researchers and Ford engineers.
“I was energized by what I saw as a very dynamic environment, where basically the opportunities are limitless,” LaFond said. “By partnering with industry, in a more dynamic fashion, by using regents who have industry experience, this creates a unique environment to improve the business model for the University and provide opportunities for the students of the University.”
Brown, who unsuccessfully ran for an open regent seat in 2006, listed keeping the cost of education low as the first priority of her platform on her campaign website.
“As much as we would love the University to continue to increase its services and update facilities, pay higher wages or hire more people, we cannot expect the students to pay the price for extravagance,” Brown said. “The incoming students need to know that there is a commitment to keep their tuition increases within the rate of inflation.”
Brown said she would look for alternative revenue streams, including working with alumni and private sector businesses to bring in additional funds to the University.
Brown did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.