A movement is afoot to have the governor – and not Michigan voters, fill seats on the state Board of Education as well as the governing boards of Michigan’s three largest universities.
A House Joint Resolution introduced this week seeks to amend the state Constitution and abolish elected seats on the state Board of Education. Also in the cross-hairs are the board of regents at University of Michigan, the board of trustees at Michigan State University and the board of governors at Wayne State University.
There are 32 seats between the four boards; all would become appointed positions.
“I think it is an important public policy decision,’’ said state Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, one of the sponsors. “Why do we have 12 of our 15 schools appointed by the governor and the other three elected?’’
A dozen of Michigan’s 15 public colleges and universities, including Grand Valley State University, are served by boards appointed by the governor. “They seem to be doing pretty good,’’ VerHeulen said.
He said the measure is not tied to recent turmoil involving MSU trustees related to the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.
There’s been calls to remove eight members of the MSU Board of Trustees over allegations they mishandled complaints of sexual abuse against Nassar, a former MSU doctor who sexually abused scores of girls and young women under the guise of treatment.
“Obviously with what’s happened at MSU, the public awareness is greater,’’ VerHeulen said. “But if you took a typical voter, they could not give you the names of the trustees.’’
Voters rarely know anything about the candidates for statewide education boards, which doesn’t guarantee the most qualified person is elected, he said.
“These campaigns are low visibility and it’s hard for the public to get to know the candidates,’’ VerHeulen said. “This is not a partisan issue; it’s about putting the most qualified people in positions of importance.’’
As it stands, candidates for the Michigan Board of Education and boards at U-M, MSU and WSU are nominated by party conventions and elected statewide. The House resolution would abolish the boards on Dec. 31. The governor would then appoint - with the advice and consent of the Senate, new members starting on Jan. 1, 1019.
In Michigan, a constitutional amendment can be proposed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. If it clears that hurdle, it still must be approved by voters in the general election.
“I want to hear the dialog, but that doesn’t begin until we get a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate,’’ VerHeulen said.
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