BTL has also endorsed another LGBTQ candidate for WSU Board of Regents. Find out more here.
Running for a spot on the University of Michigan's Board of Regents was a natural step for Wade Rakes, who earned his MBA in 2011 after graduating from of U of M's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. After earning his undergraduate degree at Princeton University, Rakes' career has spanned more than 15 years in a variety of positions that he said uniquely qualify him to take over one of the at-large seats currently held by Andrea Fischer Newman (R) and Andrew Richner (R). BTL caught up with Rakes to get a sense of some of his campaign goals before the decision is made at the Michigan Democratic Caucus on Saturday, Aug. 25.
Affordability and Accessibility
If Rakes gets a seat on the Board for an eight-year term, he said that his primary goal will be increasing the school's affordability.
"It will always be the number one issue because I think it is the signal for everything else that we do," Rakes said. "I live in Detroit and I hear from young people that they feel U of M is out of reach. It's not even a consideration for them, and they are brilliant, amazing young people. So, for me, affordability is the most important thing."
Rakes said that the first thing he'll do to positively influence tuition costs is to implement a tuition freeze. Additionally, to increase the school's accessibility to a wider audience, he will strive to implement a grant-based student loan plan. Rakes said that a similar program worked very well at his other alma mater, Princeton.
"I believe the opportunity exists for the regents to build upon some of the programs already there, but to really push toward an affordable experience for students and their families and, for me, that means freezing tuition immediately," Rakes said. "And that means moving toward a debt-free financial aid program by 2022. My experience in debt-free financial aid programs comes from a program that Princeton launched 15 years ago that's been really successful in transforming the socioeconomic makeup of the university."
Rakes went on to say that when he was an undergrad at Princeton, two-thirds of the student body were able to pay full tuition while only a third were reliant on financial aid. Rakes said that once the debt-avoidance program began, there was a positive, "180-degree shift" in the students who were able to attend school, without a significant increase in class sizes.
"Now, two-thirds of our students at Princeton receive financial aid and 22 percent of our undergraduate students are Pell Grant recipients, meaning they are amongst the least economically advantaged, or poorest, students that go to college anywhere in the United States," Rakes said. "I've seen firsthand what affordability means so that colleges are places for wealthy minds and not just for wealthy wallets. So, when I look at the University of Michigan and its reputation and its opportunity, how can we take that idea around affordability and access and put it into the nation's top public university?"
A Focus on Transparency
Rakes also said that in his term he will prioritize the transparency of all Board decisions.
"We need to ensure that we are pushing all of the state entities in Michigan into a better direction. Michigan has some of the worst transparency laws that exist," Rakes said. "So, we need to have meetings where someone can read the meeting minutes, participate in the meetings as a citizen and know what we're doing."
Among others, one of his first proposed changes will be to schedule meetings at a time that is more "accessible for stakeholders — I mean students, faculty, staff, alumni."
"So, we have to change two things relevant to transparency: One, we have to be accessible. We can leverage technology, but we have to ensure we are meeting at times that are available for people," Rakes said. "Two, to interact we shouldn't be restricting Q&A time when that time comes in a meeting, and we also need to have an office that is designated by the regents that has the ability to listen to stakeholders when we're not there every day, but also to give us unfiltered, unfettered information so that we can act on and have a much more direct lens as opposed to just a filter through an administrator through that perspective."
An Emphasis on Diversity
Lastly, Rakes said that his intersectional background as both a black man and an openly gay candidate will help to inform his decisions when tasked with making decisions about diversity.
"As I say when I'm talking to people, I'm openly gay and openly black," Rakes said. "We have to understand that we benefit from inclusion and inclusion and diversity from a variety of different dimensions. So, for me, I live diversity and inclusion every day. Not just because of who I am, but because I believe is the responsibility of a leader to create an environment and a space that values everyone. I think the university is doing beyond a good job, a great job, relative to inclusion from an LGBTQ+ perspective, but we have a lot more room to grow as we look at what we're doing for trans stakeholders. What we're doing relative to that, what services are we providing through University of Michigan Medicine. What are we doing for folks that are non-binary? How are we ensuring that we are being as inclusive as possible? We have to keep (looking at) that."
Additionally, Rakes said that his business and health care backgrounds are another way in which he will help positively diversify the board and U of M if elected.
"I'm the only person that's not a lawyer," Rakes said. "The two regents, I believe, on the Republican side they'll have their convention as well, they're also lawyers. And the existing board has a number of attorneys, so that's another diversity component that I add. I have worked at the highest levels of large organizations, organization larger than U of M and in jobs that I can talk about what I did, not that I was just in that company or in the room, but that I think is different from my competitors at this stage. I'm the only candidate for regent on either side that has experience working in large health care organizations, working with, providers, hospitals, physicians, pharmaceutical — the whole health system. Working day-to-day experience."
For more information about the upcoming nominating convention, visit michigandems.com.