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November 13, 1987 - Image 20

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-11-13
This is a tabloid page

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Do we have a legitimate selection process for
these people who have final say over
everything from tuition to faculty?
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Story by Kery Murakami

ike feudal lords, they ride into campus once a month to
rule over the land. While here, they take administrators to task
if need be and dine at the University's expense at its out-of-the-
way estate, Ingalls House. But most importantly, they exercise
final say over all major University policy decisions.
Or, as in the case of the search for a new President, they
have virtually the only say.
Who are these six men and two women that comprise the
University's Board of Regents? And why do they wield such
In theory, the state constitution says the regents - who are
elected to eight-year terms in state-wide elections - represent
the wishes of Michigan taxpayers. But in practice, the system
results in uninformed voters choosing from a limited pool of
Historically, since most state voters don't know the
difference between a Deane Baker (R-Ann Arbor) or a Thomas
Roach (D-Saline), they usually decide who to vote for based
upon the party a particular candidate represents. Often, regental
candidates ride onto the board on a popular presidential or gu-
bernatorial candidates's coattails.
In 1986, for example, Democratic Gov. James Blanchard
easily won reelection and, not surprisingly, his party's two re-
gental candidates, Paul Brown (D-Petoskey) and James Waters
(D-Muskegon) were also reelected.
Two years earlier, President Reagan's landslide win over
Walter Mondale helped carry to victory the two Republican
candidates - Neal Nielsen (R-Brighton) and Veronica Latta
Smith (R-Grosse Ile).
In that election, the two won despite getting only about
half the number of votes their Democratic challengers received
from campus-area voters. Also, neither of the winners had ever
attended a regents meeting, while both losers - incumbent
regent, Robert Nederlander (D-Detroit), and Eastern Michigan
University Prof. Marjorie Lansing (D-Ann Arbor) - had con-
siderable experience in higher education.
"The election process tends not to get people elected on the
basis of their relative merit," said Richard Kennedy, the Uni-
versity's vice president for state relations and secretary.
"Most voters don't know about the identities of the people
nominated. And I think that's too bad," said Regent Philip
Power (D-Ann Arbor).

"As a practical matter, few people know what a regent is,;
much less who the candidates are. The election pretty much
goes with the strength of a party and the top of the ticket,"
said Roach.
The only exception in the past 20 years came in 1980 when
Regent David Laro (R-Flint) lost to Nellie Varner (D-Detroit)
by a slim 6,000 vote margin. And that was an "unusual case,"
Laro said, when Reagan's victory over President Jimmy Carter
was not large enough to help him win.
Because of the strength of Democrats in the state, Laro said,
top-of-the-ticket Republicans "need to do extremely well" in
order to help regental candidates.
With the election based little on issues and merit, the re-
spective party conventions which nominate the regental candi-
dates become key.
Party officials and University regents say that concern over
the University's well-being is important in deciding who to
nominate. But regents acknowledge that the nomination pro-
cess is often tied to party politics.
An extreme example occurred in 1984, when Regent Gerald
Dunn (D-Garden City) failed to win renomination after anger-
ing some party members. A lobbyist for western Michigan
public schools, Dunn blamed his loss on a vendetta by the
United Auto Workers union, after he lobbied against a plan to
increase funding for school breakfast and lunch programs. The
UAW, an influential faction within the party, supported the
"Dunn made some enemies in the party," Brown said.
UAW officials denied the accusation, saying they thought
Lansing was qualified and were concerned about a possible
conflict of interest between Dunn's lobbying activities and his
responsibilities as a regent. The union, however, supported
Dunn when he was nominated and elected eight years earlier.
Being active in party politics is not essential to gaining a
nomination. Regent Smith, for example, held no positions in
the Republican party when she was nominated.
But strong participation in the party doesn't hurt. Some re-
gents have gone on to try for higher offices, albeit unsuccess-
fully - Baker in a bid for U.S Senate and Brown for lieu-
tenant governor.
Most regents have served on at least one party committee,
either locally or on the state level before running for the board.
"In 1964, I thought I'd be interested in being a regent and I

asked some people in the par
inated. They said the first
political service."
He served on several loca
committees, and served as]F
debate at the party's 1972 Na
Roach first ran in 1970,
tion to Brown and Waters. Pa
a midnight caucus the night
the state ticket needed such
from the state's outer areas.
men and women, racially d
Roach was nominated i
"McGovern backlash that ye
- a year when Watergate ht
Gov. William Milliken was
statewide election.
Underlining the importan
he spent $2,000 in campaign
with $1,200 during the gen
the party convention include
ers of party organizations in
19 Congressional districts, R
The cost, as well as the
cludes students and recent g
President Ken Weine. "They
the party, and by the time
from what students think," h
In 1984, LSA senior Dav
run for regent in recent histc
lander for the nomination.
The need to campaign, w
sen based oo merit, drives aw
not just students, conclude
James Blanchard to examine
"The current system ofte
choices and discouraged mar
willing to subject themselv
mission said in a 1984 repoi
But regents argue that the
tion actually screens out unqu

Murakami is the Daily's University Editor



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