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Resolution proposes ending elected university boards

voting booths
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

Some state lawmakers are calling for retiring the elected governing boards that oversee Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan in favor of executive appointments. That’s after scandals, tension, and turmoil in recent years have embroiled leadership at the three largest public universities in the state.

The resolution put forward by three Republicans reflects wide frustration with accusations of malfeasance and misfeasance that have roped in elected governing boards. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has recently weighed in.

Part of the problem, said Senator Ed McBroom (D-Vulcan), is the current system favors donors and political insiders who are nominated at state party conventions.

“Purely, the blame lays at the feet of the parties,” he said. “The parties are motivated to win, not necessarily to provide the best governance of the universities.”

But State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), whose district includes the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, said taking those positions off the ballot isn’t the answer.

“Whenever anybody says we should give voters less influence and less direct control, my hackles go up,” he said. “And, so, it’s not always wrong, but in general, I think that more direct democracy is good.”

Michigan’s 12 other public university boards are appointed by the governor, subject to Senate approval. Changing the Michigan Constitution would require the Legislature or a petition campaign to put a question on the ballot for voter approval.

McBroom’s resolution to put the amendment on the ballot was assigned to the Senate Government Operations Committee.

None of the universities have responded to a request for comment.

Editor's note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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