The University Record, May 20, 1998

U-M 'important in the life of the state and country,' Deitch says

Editor's Note: The following article is one in a series devoted to the Board of Regents as a governance organization and the eight Regents as individuals who share the concerns of the members of the University community.

By Rebecca A. Doyle

DeitchA Michigan education is a family tradition for Regent Laurence Deitch. He and his sister spent their undergraduate and graduate years at the U-M, both receiving law degrees, and his oldest daughter, Sarah, currently in her second year of law school at Harvard University, followed at least the undergraduate portion of that tradition. A second daughter, Leslie, is an honors history major here, the same field Deitch studied as an undergraduate. William, now in seventh grade, "is very adept at computers" but hasn't decided whether he will look for a career in business or some other field.

"I think Michigan is a very important place in the life of the state and of the country," says Deitch, who is now in his fifth year as Regent. "I am particularly devoted to Michigan because it is not only very great academically, but because it is egalitarian in spirit. The fact that Michigan is, in my opinion, the world's greatest public university is something to cherish and nurture."

Deitch chose to serve on the Board of Regents because of the U-M's great tradition, commitment and "longstanding pattern" of providing opportunities for women, minorities and those who have been denied access to a quality education because of their race, sex or religion. The U-M's culture and tradition of values are what Deitch admires and works to preserve.

"This University is the only institution in the state I would have the interest in serving as a member of the board," he says. Part of that may be because of the memories he has of sitting in Dominick's restaurant sipping coffee and downing doughnuts while talking about politics or history with classmates, but his desire to serve the U-M isn't based on nostalgia.

"I came to the University in 1965. Things now are wholly different. I found that nostalgia and powerful emotions may be a force in involving someone in an endeavor like this, but nostalgic feelings about the past are irrelevant to running an institution today," he says.

"I felt I had some ability from my years in law practice and working with both corporate and philanthropic organizations, and I felt I had some ability and something to contribute in terms of my values, insights and commitments. If you meld together a commitment to the U-M with something that I am pretty good at and like doing, it seemed like a good thing to do."

Deitch is a senior partner practicing corporate law at Seyburn, Kahn, Ginn, Bess, Deitch and Serlin in Southfield and balances that career with duties that stem from his position as Regent.

"I am fortunate to be a person with a high level of energy and what I like to think of as a good work ethic. I am a pretty quick study, but [being a Regent] is still a lot of work."

Deitch has been married to Penny for 29 years, since the beginning of his law school days. He remembers a small apartment on Mary Street where they first lived as something Penny said he "was fond of because it was close to the IM Building." Also working toward a graduate degree, Penny commuted to Detroit where she taught high school Spanish and English as a second language. During those years, which Deitch remembers as "a great time," the couple began making friends in the Democratic Party in the Ann Arbor area, and Penny began to work part-time as secretary to Bob Harris, the first Democratic mayor in Ann Arbor since the Depression. Some of those first contacts were faculty members, and Deitch says it has been "gratifying to run into them while I've been on the Board."

In spite of his busy schedule--or perhaps because of it--family vacations are a high point for the Deitch family. Sun and water are important ingredients for a good time either in northern Michigan or at Cape Cod.

Deitch often tries to get away during the winter months for a break, but injured a knee skiing and is not as aggressive a skier as he once was. Winter weather, as long as it is bright, is fine with him. "I don't mind the cold, but I do tend to get sick of the unremitting gray sky. If it can get a little sunnier, I am very happy." When Michigan's skies threaten weeks of cloudy murk, though, Deitch can spend leisure hours at Borders Books, where he says he turns into a "magazine junkie," making weekly trips to replenish his supply. He also reads biographies and history, and is an avid golfer, "but not really good at it."

The traditions at Michigan blend with the traditions of the Board of Regents when Deitch talks about what is important to him in serving the University.

"I have been a Democrat all my life. That says something about my values, and I bring those values to the table. But the Board has a tradition of bi-partisan governance and looking at the issues in light of what is best for the whole University. I've tried to play my part in the continuation of that tradition.

"But I am not afraid to be up front in terms of things that may be controversial. I try to make decisions based on my principles."