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University of Michigan regents candidates propose ethics and transparency changes

The University of Michigan Regents
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

The two Democrats running for the University of Michigan Board of Regents say the university needs to improve its ethics and transparency practices, and do more to make tuition more affordable.

Some of the changes proposed by Paul Brown and Jordan Acker stem from a Detroit Free Press investigation into the university's handling of its endowment funds. The investigation found that many of the funds in which the university invests are connected to top university donors and alumni investment advisors.

Brown, a University of Michigan alumnus who previously was vice president of capital markets for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, says that practice should stop.  

"One of great things about the university is some of our graduates are the greatest fund managers in the world," says Brown. "That said, as a public institution, I would set a guideline or rule or standard that we don't give any managers who are major donors to the university monies to manage. And that means that we will forgo investing in some great funds. But there are others out there that are just as good that we can invest in that avoid that appearance of conflict."

Brown also says the university should make its regents meetings more accessible, by having the meetings in the evening, rather than the afternoon, having the meetings more often on the university's Dearborn and Flint campuses, and live-streaming the meetings.

U of M alumnus Jordan Acker, who previously worked for the Obama administration, says if elected, he will be the first regent with a six-figure student debt.  

"As I've traveled around the state, Michiganders have said to me, that they don't even feel like (the University of) Michigan is for them because they can't afford it. That's a problem," he says.
Acker says the university should use more of its $11 billion endowment fund for tuition assistance. 
"That money is there for a rainy day," he says, "And that rainy day for so many Michigan families is today.  And we need to reach underserved communities in Michigan. From Detroit to Escanaba, we hear the same thing, that (the University of) Michigan doesn't even attempt to reach out to them. The University of Michigan must be a university for Michigan, not a university in Michigan."Incumbent Republican Andrea Fischer Newman has been a U of M Regent for 24 years. She says during that time, she has fought to keep tuition affordable. 

In an emailed statement, she responded on behalf of herself and fellow Republican incumbent Andrew Richner to the Democratic candidates' call for ethics and transparency reforms.

We welcome the efforts of Mr. Brown and Mr. Acker to bring further transparency and accountability to the University of Michigan, especially as it pertains to the how the fast-growing endowment fund is managed. Should voters give us the privilege of serving their flagship university another term, we will champion these and other ethics reforms.

Brown and Acker says Newman has had 24 years to propose the reforms herself, but didn't.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.