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Lawmakers consider changing how three universities select their boards

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Governor Snyder's budget calls for further cuts to public universities.

Lawmakers are considering a proposal to change how the state selects the governing bodies of three of its major universities.

Right now, 12 university governing boards are picked by the governor. Three – Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University – are elected. The measure would turn those three university boards into governor appointments.

“If twelve universities are going to be this way, I think it’s a hard argument to make, despite constitutional arguments of research and this and that, I think it’s a hard argument to make that these are great but not great for these other twelve,” said House Elections and Ethics committee chair, Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis. The measures were taken up in the committee and debated, but were not put up for a vote. 

Miller isn’t optimistic about the future of the measure. It requires two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate. During the committee hearing, there was opposition from several members. He says if that continues, simple math means the measure is doomed. Another potential roadblock is it doesn’t have the support of Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt.

If it did pass in the House and Senate, it would still have to be approved by the voters. State Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, a bill sponsor, hopes the Legislature will let the measure go to the voters. He said the people should get a chance to choose if these universities are getting their boards in the best way possible.

“At the end of the day, all we’re voting for is to give people the choice,” he said. “Is the status quo working? I think in many ways it isn’t.”

But others feel that the status quo is working, and just because governor appointment works for other universities, doesn’t mean it’ll work for these three.

“The concern I’ve got quite frankly is where do you draw the line on this thing?” said Representative Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor. “And, you know, I believe in representative democracy. Key component to representative democracy is obviously voters participating in that democracy through their ability to directly elect somebody to vote on their behalf.”

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R