Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Senate Assembly hosts regent candidates at forum

Candidates seeking two open seats on the Board of Regents presented their views on what the university needs in its next president and discussed how U-M should deal with ongoing financial challenges during a Senate Assembly forum Monday.


More information

Read the candidates' biographical information and platform statements.

Four of the 10 people running for the board in the Nov. 6 election appeared at the forum to discuss their campaign platforms and answer questions from the faculty governance group and audience members.

Participating in the 90-minute discussion were Democrats Mark Bernstein and Dr. Shauna Ryder Diggs, Republican Dr. Robert Steele, and Green Party candidate Eric Borregard.

Not participating were Republican Dan Horning, Libertarian candidates James Lewis Hudler and Gregory Scott Stempfle, U.S. Taxpayers Party candidates Joe Sanger and Gerald T. Van Sickle, and Natural Law Party candidate Nikki Mattson.

Regents Olivia P. Maynard, D-Goodrich, and S. Martin Taylor, D-Grosse Pointe Farms, are not seeking re-election.

Each candidate made introductory and closing statements and addressed a variety of topics that also included the balance between research and teaching, the role of athletics in conjunction with the academic mission, racial equity in hiring, whether undocumented Michigan residents should be allowed to pay in-state tuition rates, and whether discounted or free tuition should be offered for faculty members' children who are accepted at U-M.

Asked to identify the most important challenges to U-M over the coming years, Diggs and Bernstein agreed that a key one is selecting a successor for President Mary Sue Coleman, whose contract expires July 31, 2014. Steele said the top challenge is dealing with exploding costs, and Borregard said it would be tackling "waste, fraud and abuse."

Each candidate later was asked what qualities and attributes they would look for in a new university president.

Steele, a physician and cardiologist from Ypsilanti, said the next president should be open and listen to all points of view and have sound experience "with a great research university that has a very different cost structure than many other mid-level universities without expensive laboratory space and services, and also … be able to deal in a creative way with a situation that's going to come in declining state and federal funds available for higher education as we come up against a budget crisis that's looming in the horizon."

Bernstein, an attorney from Ann Arbor, said the board should look for someone "who understands the role of this university in this state and in this country and, frankly, in the world, … a university that's going to be going through, like all of higher education, a transformative moment in managing cost structure, in managing the delivery of knowledge through digital assets."

Diggs, a dermatologist from Detroit, said it is important that the next president is someone who builds from consensus, and is good at "operational efficiencies" or at hiring people to "help us optimize the dollars that we have. … I think that there are absolutely people out there who can fit our University of Michigan sort of persona and … challenge us all to become better over the next five, 10, 15, 20 years."

Borregard, a small business owner from Dexter, stressed U-M's next leader should possess an "environmental awareness, awareness that we are living on a collapsing ecosystem on a dying planet" and a sense of social justice.

Several questions addressed the topic of university finances amid declining state and federal funding and increasing tuition rates.

Steele advocated using the university endowment to provide a tuition refund for students entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and as principal for student loans.

Bernstein proposed "college access bonds" that would utilize U-M's borrowing power to finance low-interest student loans. "Creativity is going to be central to this, and doing some things out of the box."

Diggs suggested targeted fundraising to help with tuition. "We need to go to our donors, to our largest alumni group, and ask them to give money specifically to go toward student grants, not loans, not scholarships, for grants. I think donors would be receptive toward that. I think regents can lead the effort."

Borregard contended that no students should have to pay tuition regardless of where they come from. "Our party favors zero tuition so there would be no need to increase it any more."