Understanding Michigan’s elected University governing boards

Michigan is an outlier in its election of University Board Members.

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Michigan has 15 public universities, but only the board members of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University are chosen in partisan elections. The boards of the 12 smaller schools, such as Eastern, Central and Western Michigan and Grand Valley State, are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate. These boards are the highest governing body at a university, overseeing the university’s activities, finances and property and selection of a president of the university as often as is necessary under its supervision.

Voters completing their ballots might become confused when they are faced with voting for members of Michigan’s three university governing boards. They may find themselves wondering how they got on the ballot, what their function is, or how they could learn more about the candidates. This is the first article in a three-part series that will address these questions. The second article will cover the responsibilities of these boards and how the public can become involved or attend their meetings. and the third article explains some details about how candidates are placed on the ballot and how to learn more about the candidates before voting.

Michigan is the only state to elect its boards for public universities via a statewide citizen vote. 

Three other states (Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada) elect their trustees, or regents, through district-level elections.

The history of the related section of the Michigan Constitution prior to 1850, until the current version can be read at “Explaining Michigan’s one-of-a-kind university governance model.”

 The current version, the Michigan Constitution of 1963 (Article VIII section 5) requires that “Regents of the University of Michigan, the Trustees of Michigan State University, and the Governors of Wayne State University shall have eight members each holding eight-year terms and will be elected as provided by law every two years.”

The direct election of these public university governing boards by the voters of Michigan means that, in theory, the state legislature and the executive branch have less say in their policies. However, the legislature does exercise some degree of political control through the appropriation of public dollars to provide partial funding for the schools.

Those potential candidates interested in the board positions have a filing deadline to run and then are nominated at the respective party conventions. The conventions are not open to the public.  

The next article will examine the responsibilities of these three unique boards and how the public can become involved and attend their meetings.

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