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Who is running for University of Michigan, MSU and Wayne State boards?

Wayne State University
Voters will select a total of six statewide university board positions at the Nov. 8 general election. (alisafarov / Shutterstock.com)

Michigan voters will choose between 23 candidates running for the governing boards of the three largest universities in the Nov. 8 election. 

The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University boards each have two seats up for grabs. Elected candidates will serve eight-year terms. The unpaid board members oversee each institution’s spending and leadership. 

Related:

A closer look at each board and its candidates:

Who is in the running for the University of Michigan Board of Regents?

There are seven candidates for the University of Michigan Board of Regents: two Democrats, two Republicans, a member of the Green Party, a Libertarian and a member of the U.S. Taxpayers Party. 

The board supervises the university, its money and hires and fires the university president.

Democrats now control the board 6-2. Here is a rundown of the Nov. 8 candidates:

Michael Behm, Democratic incumbent

Michael Behm began serving on the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents in 2014. His current term ends on Jan. 1, 2023.

Behm, an attorney from Grand Blanc, received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan in 1989 and his juris doctor from Wayne State University in 1992.

Additionally, Behm, a founding member of the Flint Youth initiative, has served on the Board of Trustees of the Flint Institute of Arts and volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Katherine White, Democratic incumbent

Katherine White became a regent in 1998, and her term ends on Jan. 1, 2023.

White, a patent attorney and law professor at Wayne State University, earned a bachelor of science and engineering degree from Princeton University and a juris doctor from the University of Washington.

A brigadier general in the Army National Guard, she was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Fame.  

Lena Epstein, Republican

Lena Epstein, a business owner from metro Detroit, graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor of arts and a master of business administration from the University of Michigan in 2008.

Epstein co-owns an oil company based in Southfield with her family.

Additionally, she served on the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce boards, the Detroit Historical Society and the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

Sevag Vartanian, Republican

Sevag Vartanian, a financial analyst in Novi, graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of science degree in actuarial mathematics in 1991. He received his master of business administration from the University of Chicago.

According to his campaign website, Vartanian has worked in the finance sector for more than 30 years. As an undergraduate at U-M, Vartanian became a cheerleader after an injury prevented him from trying out for the football team.

Vartanian said he is active in his church and community.

Also running:

Sherry Wells, a Green Party member and attorney from Highland Park; Eric Larson, a Libertarian and anesthesiologist in Grand Rapids; Kathleen Oakford, a member of the Natural Law Party; and Joe Sanger, a member of the U.S. Taxpayer Party.

Here is who is running for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees:

Seven candidates are running for two spots on the Michigan State Board of Trustees, including two Democrats, two Republicans, one Green Party member and two Libertarians.

Democrats now control the board 5-3. Terms last eight years for the board that supervises the university, its money and hires and fires the university president.

Renee Knake Jefferson, Democratic incumbent

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Renee Knake Jefferson of East Lansing in 2019 to complete a vacated term that ends on Jan. 1, 2023.

Jefferson is a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Previously, Jefferson taught law at MSU for a decade.

Additionally, she was a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School and the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2019.

Dennis Denno, Democrat

Dennis Denno of East Lansing is a researcher and pollster who graduated from Michigan State University in 1992 with a bachelor of arts and received a master of arts from the University of Michigan in 1994. 

He has owned and operated a political polling and surveying company for the last 22 years.

According to Denno’s website, the issues he will focus on range from budget priorities to transparency and a commitment to pay all MSU employees $15 an hour.

Mike Balow, Republican

Mike Balow, a Plymouth Township businessman, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1994 and served as a surface warfare officer.

According to Balow’s campaign website, he served as a church president of the youth football team and was his neighborhood association president.

Balow said he’s running for the board of trustees to “be a voice of reason and change.”

Travis Menge, Republican

Travis Menge is an orthopedic surgery specialist in Grand Rapids who earned his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University.

According to his campaign website, Menge is running for the board to grow "MSU’s presence as a global leader in education, science, research, and technology.”

The issues Menge said he wants to focus on range from reducing tuition costs to improving transparency and accountability.

Also running:

Robin Laurain, co-chair of the Green Party of Michigan from Lansing, and Libertarians Claranna Gelineau and Max Rieske.

Wayne State University Board of Governors

Seven candidates are running for the two seats on the Wayne State University Board of Governors: two Democrats, two Republicans, a Libertarian, a member of the U.S. Taxpayers and a member of the Green Party. 

Democrats now have a 6-2 edge on the board that is charged with managing the university’s finances and supervises its president.

Danielle Atkinson, Democrat

Danielle Atkinson of Royal Oak is the national executive and founder of Mothering Justice, a grassroots policy advocacy organization that “provides women of color resources for a more equitable life.”

Atkinson graduated with a bachelor of science from Pfeiffer University. She has worked with organizations like America Votes, State Voices, Population Connection and ACORN. 

Marilyn Kelly, Democratic incumbent 

Marilyn Kelly, from Detroit, assumed her seat on the Wayne State University Board of Governors in 2015. Her current term ends on Dec. 31. 

Kelly is a former Michigan Supreme Court chief justice and received a bachelor of arts from Eastern Michigan University and her juris doctor from Wayne State University in 1971. She served on the Michigan State Board of Education in 1964. 

Kelly has also served on several associations and councils, including the Women’s Bar Association, the State Attorney Discipline Board and the State Bar of Michigan.

Craig Wilsher, Republican 

Craig Wilsher is a law enforcement officer in Wayne County who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Wayne State University. According to his campaign website, Wilsher has been an officer for 27 years. 

Wilsher is also an adjunct assistant professor at Schoolcraft College and previously taught at Ferris State University. According to Wilsher’s website, he opposes raising tuition and supports the “exceptional efforts of the WSU Police Department.”

Christa Murphy, Republican

Christa Murphy of Oakland County, is running as a "voice of students." She promises to end annual tuition increase, improve graduation rates and reform curricula to prepare students for "real life." She is a Wayne State graduate with a degree in mathematics.

Others who are also running: 

Bruce Jaquays, from Lansing, is a libertarian a postal worker; Marc Joseph Sosnowski is from Detroit and a member of the U.S. Taxpayers Party; and Susan Odgers is from Traverse City and a member of the Green Party.

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