The University Record, November 26, 1996

Lansing office provides connection between legislators, faculty

Johnson told ABPAFS members that they should be sure to make their voices heard in Lansing.

Photo by Rebecca A. Doyle

By Rebecca A. Doyle


Knowledge that U-M faculty members have can be very important to legislators in Lansing, Veronica Johnson says, especially when the effects of term limitation become more apparent in Michigan's House of Representatives and Senate.

Johnson, director of the U-M's Lansing Service Center, spoke last week to the Association of Black Professional Administrators, Faculty and Staff (ABPAFS) about the function of the Lansing office and how their knowledge and expertise can make a difference in public policy issues.

"There will never again be a Dominic Jacobetti," Johnson said. Jacobetti spent 40 years in Lansing representing constituents in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Term limits placed on the members of the Michigan Legislature will reduce the incumbent representatives in the House by 80 in 1998, and another 20 or so of the remaining members will leave in 2000. By 2002, all current Michigan senators will have been replaced.

"It will be a different kind of legislature," Johnson said. "They won't have two to four years to get their feet wet---they'll have to hit the ground running.

"That's where higher education comes in. This is an opportunity to help them with information they will need to know to make policy decisions." Legislators would be limited to how much their staff may know, she said, and then only if those staff members were to stay with the newly elected representatives.

"Without first-hand knowledge of the history of some of the legislation, legislators need people like those from the U-M who perhaps helped introduce the legislation, who know the background and what will work," Johnson continued.

Johnson also said accountability was a big issue with legislators.

"There is some skepticism of the value of higher education. Legislators want to know who is teaching. They ask, `Is it full professors or teaching assistants?' The U-M has some very good answers to give, and it is good to compare our answers to those from other institutions."

Johnson also addressed the affirmative action issue, following an earlier request from APBAFS members. She talked about House Bill 4054, which would have prohibited test score adjustment "based on religion, race, color, national origin or sex for the purpose of selecting an individual for admission into that educational institution." House Bill 4972, she said, would have banned all affirmative action plans of public employers unless the plan was first submitted to and approved by the Civil Rights Commission. House Joint Resolution L, the Jaye resolution, calls for a constitutional amendment to specifically prohibit institutions of higher education that are either wholly or partially state-funded from "using religion, race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as a criterion for either discriminating against, or granting preferential treatment to, an individual or group in employment, public education or public contracting."

Since legislative sessions will soon be in recess, the next two months are a time when no action is expected to be taken, but Johnson said that the bills may be re-introduced early next year. She urged ABPAFS members to make their voices heard.

"Legislators love to know what the voters think," she said. "You put them in office. We can all make a difference together in providing information to Michigan legislators."

Staff at the Lansing Service Center can be reached at (517) 372-7801.