Politicians, businesspeople set to win tight races for Michigan university boards

Democrats and Republicans are split down the middle in the narrow race for six positions on the boards of Michigan’s largest public universities, according to unofficial vote totals.

Up for grabs were two seats each at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. The eight-year terms begin Jan. 1.

The unofficial vote tallies of 82 out of 83 counties in Michigan were reported by the Secretary of State on Thursday morning. Antrim County is the only one that has yet to submit results. The Michigan Information & Research Service declared the winners based on those totals.

Republican Terri Lynn Land and Democrat Shirley Stancato won seats on the WSU board of governors.

Land, who served as Michigan Secretary of State under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm from 2003 to 2011, received the largest chunk of votes, at around 24.5 percent of the total. Stancato, who had 24.3 percent of the vote, had been appointed to the board by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December to replace Chair Kim Trent, who left to join Whitmer’s administration.

The other incumbent, Sandra Hughes O’Brien, had failed to receive the endorsement of the Democratic Party and was not on the ballot. She was elected to the board in 2012 and has been a leading voice advocating the ouster of Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson.

In the University of Michigan board of regents race, Republican Sarah Hubbard garnered nearly 24 percent of the vote, eking out a win over incumbent Democrat Shauna Ryder Diggs. Hubbard runs Lansing-based government relations firm Acuitas LLC and has been involved in GOP politics for 30 years.

Democrat Mark Bernstein was the top vote-getter, with 24.7 percent of the total. The president and managing partner of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm PLLC has served on UM’s board since 2012.

As for the Michigan State University board of trustees, Republican newcomer Pat O’Keefe squeezed out an upset over Democrat incumbent Brian Mosallam with 24.2 percent of the vote. Mosallam had campaigned heavily to keep his seat, highlighting a family-man persona and support from the survivors of disgraced former doctor Larry Nassar.

O’Keefe, who ran on a platform emphasizing conservatism and capitalism, heads up Bloomfield Hills-based finance firm O’Keefe & Associates Consulting.

Democrat newcomer Rema Vassar, an associate professor at Eastern Michigan University and previous K-12 educator, won other seat, left open when Joel Ferguson opted not to seek re-election. The longest-serving trustee on the board, Ferguson drew scorn for his response to the Nassar scandal.

The new board members take on the role of helping oversee the universities’ finances and assets. University boards also play a significant role in policy and student and personnel matters, including approval of presidents and tuition rates.

Michigan is the only state in the nation where university board members are elected through a statewide vote. Only board members at the three largest institutions are elected, though. Board members of Michigan’s other 12 public universities are appointed by the governor with approval from the state Senate.

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