Legislators: New system needed to hold university boards accountable

State Reps. James Lower, Rob VerHeulen and Michael Webber have said the time is right to consider changing the selection process for future members of the boards governing Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

The legislators testified before the House Elections and Ethics Committee in support of their three-piece proposal that would bring the three major state universities in line with every other public university in Michigan, where trustee appointments are made by the governor.

“When you put the two processes next to each other, the appointment process is better. The candidates go through a thorough vetting process that results in a well-rounded, better-qualified governing board,” said Lower, of Cedar Lake. “It’s time to present it as an option to the voters and allow them to decide if they think it makes sense for the other three public universities as well.”

VerHeulen said 12 of Michigan’s 15 public universities currently use the model they have proposed. The majority of other states also rely on a gubernatorial appointment process.

“I had a chance to talk to the leadership at Grand Valley State University,” said VerHeulen, of Walker. “They indicated to me that the gubernatorial appointment route has worked very well. Governors of both parties have focused on the mission of the university when making the appointments, avoiding partisan politics that doesn’t necessarily advance the mission of
the university.”

Webber, of Rochester Hills, said he received similar feedback from Oakland University, located within his House district.

“The governors of both political parties in the past have treated the appointments for these 12 university boards in a very professional manner,” Webber said. “This model works very well there, and it works in a lot of other states.”

House Joint Resolution DD, introduced by Lower, would abolish the existing governing boards at MSU, U-M and Wayne State, as well as the state school board, on Dec. 31, 2018. On Jan. 1, 2019, the governor would appoint eight members to each board to serve staggered terms.

The proposal would be placed on the statewide ballot for voter consideration if HJR DD is approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate.

House Bills 5515 and 5516, introduced by VerHeulen and Webber, update Michigan’s election law and campaign finance act to reflect changes made in HJR DD.

The legislation remains under consideration by the House Elections and Ethics Committee.