Candidates compete for seats on state university boards

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The future of University of Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon, campus funding priorities and tuition affordability have emerged as issues as 30 candidates vie for a voice on the governing boards of the state’s three largest universities during the Nov. 4 election.

But only two, eight-year seats are available on each of the boards at U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. The top two vote-getters in each of the three races, for a total of six candidates, will win.

Democrats hold 6-2 majorities on all three boards, and Republican candidates have touted issues such as proposing alternative funding priorities on campus and reining in union contracts as a way to control costs.

All U-M candidates opined on the uproar over Brandon’s reign, which has included controversies of student football tickets and the team’s keeping quarterback Shane Morris on the field after a probable concussion. Some students and alumni revolted with a rally and petition calling for Brandon’s dismissal.

Though the Board of Regents does not have the authority to hire or fire personnel, Democratic candidate Mike Behm, an attorney, said he would counsel President Mark Schlissel to remove Brandon and pay him $3 million to let him out of his contract, which runs through 2018.

“In the long run, I think it would save the university money,” Behm said. “... I do not believe Dave Brandon has done an adequate job at protecting the interests of the athletic department.”

Republican candidate Dr. Rob Steele argues the regents should let Schlissel do his job.

“We have a new president at the university, and this new president needs to evaluate the situation, make his report to the university and decide first whether he has in place the people he wants at the university,” said Steele, an interventional cardiologist based in Ann Arbor. “Regents should not be jumping around the president at this point.”

Kathy White, a Democrat who chairs the regents board and is seeking re-election, said in a statement that she supports Schlissel, who said he is investigating the situation and also planned to address player safety as well as operating the athletics program with integrity.

“The board is not charged with managing the university’s day-to-day operations; those have been delegated to the president,” wrote White, a law professor at WSU.

Republican Ronald Weisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia and ex-chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Also seeking a seat are Libertarians James Lewis Hudler and John Jascob; U.S. Taxpayers candidates Joe Sanger and Christine Schwartz; and Green Party candidate Ian Swanson.

MSU Democratic Trustees George Perles, the former Spartans football coach, and Faylene Owen are both seeking re-election. They are up against nine candidates including Republicans Melanie Foster and Jeff Sakwa; Libertarians Michael Miller and Raymond Moses; U.S. Taxpayers candidates Crystal Van Sickle and Stephen Young; Green Party candidates Adam Adrianson and Terry Link; and National Labor Party candidate Bridgette Guzman.

At WSU, 11 candidates are fighting for two open seats since Democrat and Board Chairwoman Debbie Dingell is running for Congress and Democrat Eugene Driker is retiring. The candidates include Democrats Marilyn Kelly and Dana Alicia Thompson; Republicans Michael Busuito and Satish Jasti; Libertarians Dan Goebel and Brian Richard Wright; U.S. Taxpayers candidates Shari Matkin and Marc Joseph Sosnowski; Green Party candidates Margaret Guttshall and Latham Redding; and National Labor Party candidate Yolanda Robson.

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kelly, who is now teaching at the university’s law school, said the most important issues are keeping down tuition and increasing diversity.