Push to end public elections for Michigan university boards, including MSU, continues

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LANSING (WJRT) - (02/15/18) - Several bills are moving through the Michigan House of Representatives that deal with sexual assault reporting and accountability at Michigan universities.

Lawmakers are split on how one package of bills might potentially help students.

Representative James Lower (R-Cedar Lake) testified before the Elections and Ethics Committee Thursday about House Joint Resolution DD. He was joined by Representative VerHeulen (R-Walker) and Representative Webber (R-Rochester Hills).

Lower told the committee that this amendment would eliminate elected university boards at Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan. The board would then be appointed by the governor with Senate approval.

"A new board is created and then the appointments are done in a staggered fashion so you still have people coming off every two years and new appointments being made," Lower said before the committee.

This measure would put those three universities in line with the 12 other Michigan universities. Together with House bills 5515 and 5516, the package of bills would do the same for the publicly elected state Board of Education. Representative Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) sits on the Elections and Ethics Committee.

"We've seen in other instances, the Flint water crisis for example, that when the governor appoints people, that person is not accountable by the people. They're not responsible to the people of the State of Michigan and then failure happens," Guerra said.

Rep. Lower says the boards would be obsolete December 31, giving the governor power to make appointments on January 1, 2019. This all comes in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. Michigan State University is being investigated by the Michigan attorney general, the U.S. Department of Education, Congress, the NCAA and the Michigan Legislature for how they handled reports of abuse by the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor.

"The bills stand on their own merit. I think it's a good change to make regardless of what happened at MSU, but given what happened there, I think it's just case in point for why this is necessary, and why it's something I'd like to see on the ballot, and the voters get to decide on whether they want to make the change," Lower said.

"The state board in my opinion is a very different body. They represent the entire state of Michigan and for that reason all Michiganders should be able to vote on who makes and directs education policy here in the state of Michigan," Guerra said.

During the committee meeting Democrats also brought up the idea of a possible dueling bill to be put on the ballot, asking voters if they would like to see the other 12 Michigan universities have publicly elected boards like MSU, WSU and UofM. Lower said he would not be open to that.

The discussions surrounding this topic are only just beginning. It could be a week or two before a vote is brought up.

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