Who would have thought that a governor elected with such a mandate to revitalize our state and keep young people in Michigan would become a focal point for student anger when he was named the University’s Spring 2011 Commencement speaker earlier this week? Why would students be so upset at the idea of such a prominent and successful University alum coming to address our graduating seniors? We believe that such anger at the simple decision to invite the governor of Michigan to commencement is uncalled for and unbecoming of an open-minded University where differing thoughts and viewpoints can be expressed and exchanged freely.
Many of those who are unhappy with the pick oppose Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s selection on the basis that Snyder has proposed cutting state funding to our own University. But this is truly nothing new. The University’s website explains that higher education funding has been cut by every administration since the 1960s. Over the last nine years — Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s two terms as governor — state funding declined by 13 percent. Snyder’s proposed cut of 15 percent is comparable and fair given the current fiscal realities that our state is facing. Some hold the additional misconception that the state money the University receives sustains it and constitutes a source of funding we couldn’t survive without. But in reality, Snyder’s proposed cut of 15 percent in current state funding to the University is much smaller than it sounds. Because state support makes up only 20 percent of the University’s general fund — and the general fund makes up just 27.8 percent of the University’s total budget — in reality, the proposed cut is less than 1 percent (0.834 percent to be exact) of the University’s overall budget. Our University has done well and can continue to flourish without relying on this state funding. This cut can be managed. And it will have to be.
Anyone who is willing to take an honest look at our state’s budget will see that Michigan simply cannot continue spending at the current levels. The politically expedient path taken by Snyder’s predecessor was to back down from tough spending cuts for fear of losing political support. Snyder inherited a real structural deficit that cannot be repaired without far-reaching structural changes. Luckily for us, he has risen to the challenge of proposing long-term solutions and has the courage to move forward, even with the knowledge that his ideas will make him no friends. People can complain all they want, but we have already seen that the alternative — taxing the same, shrinking tax base and driving real jobs away from our state — hasn’t worked.
What’s more, inviting newly elected governors — both Republicans and Democrats alike — to address graduates at commencement is a longstanding University tradition, going all the way back to Republican Gov. William Milliken in the 1980s. Those who wish to protest the decision would be well served to place personal politics aside, as many conservatives on campus did last year with President Barack Obama as the commencement speaker. Where was all the hype and hysteria then?
In spite of some students’ irresponsible and immature protest over petty political differences with Snyder, it’s highly unlikely that the University’s Board of Regents will make any decision other than to approve Snyder as speaker at their meeting today. He is our governor, whether the students at the University like it or not, and has taken on the task of making hard choices to protect our state’s financial and economic future. He should be applauded for having the guts to make such unpopular but necessary decisions. Snyder doesn’t deserve to be maligned or ridiculed on Facebook with crudely photoshopped red X’s through his face. Such petty and degrading behavior from University students shows a lack of class and a lack of respect for an alum holding three degrees from the University — a loyal alum who is seen courtside at basketball games, who is a resident of Ann Arbor and who has sacrificed opportunities in the private sector to serve us as governor. Whether you agree with his policies or not, Snyder has shown true leadership and achieved success both in politics and in the private sector. Let’s not harangue him for that success, but instead recognize it, respect it and celebrate it this spring at commencement.
Nicole Miller and Brian Koziara are the vice chairs of the University’s chapter of College Republicans. They are LSA sophomores.