• Photo cap: Jason Morgan. Courtesy photo.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Chair Jason Morgan Appointed Northern Michigan University Trustee

By |2021-01-15T09:45:26-05:00January 15th, 2021|Michigan, News|

When Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Chair Jason Morgan was deciding where to attend college as an undergrad, a lot of people asked why he would want to head north to Marquette. But from his perspective, it was a natural choice.
“When I visited Marquette and NMU, it was the people that drew me there, because they were just warm and inviting and friendly and it just felt like home,” Morgan recalled. “Marquette as a community is one of the most amazing places in the world. From the downtown in Marquette to all of the outdoor opportunities that you have there, it’s just a pretty amazing place.”
Now as a trustee, Morgan will have plenty of opportunity — at least four times a year — to visit his alma mater. Having graduated in 2011, Morgan was a very engaged student, including serving as student body president. He believes that’s an asset in his new position.
“I think one of the biggest things I can bring to the NMU Board of Trustees is that I know the campus well,” Morgan said. “I am excited about engaging with students and staff on campus and I’ve had some experience in leadership positions through the county commission here in Washtenaw County and through other roles that I’ve served in and I think that combination of things will really allow me to do a decent job as a trustee.”
Northern Michigan University’s eight-member board governing board, the Board of Trustees, is appointed by the governor, per Michigan’s Constitution. With general supervision over the institution, the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution’s funds, the Board may have other duties as prescribed by law, such as electing a university president when necessary.
Morgan said many people don’t have a clear understanding of the role the Board plays. Trustees hold less power than one might think.
“Trustees don’t … run the day-to-day operations of the institution,” Morgan said. “So it’s important to balance stepping in when needed to weigh in on issues on campus but not be overly involved.”
Morgan hopes to help navigate the university through some of the challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Critical are not only the health and safety of students, faculty and staff but also the long-term stability of the institution.
“My ability to [help] is through working with the university administration to share whatever perspective I can share based on my experiences as chair of the county commission over the last couple of years as we’ve navigated the crisis down here in Southeast Michigan,” Morgan said. However, he doesn’t want to be “in the way.”
“There’s sort of a fine balance when you’re a trustee or a commissioner with making sure that you are helpful, supportive and you’re asking the right questions and holding people accountable, while also not sort of impeding the work that has to happen to run the institution,” Morgan added.
As a “proud, openly LGBT person,” Morgan said, “I would love to work with students on campus and get to know them and hear how things are going there. I was a very outspoken LGBT activist on campus.”
At that time, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed now-Saugatuck city councilmember Garnet Lewis to NMU’s Board of Trustees. She became a mentor to Morgan.
“Garn was a mentor to me; she’s still a friend today,” Morgan said. “She is absolutely amazing, and she was always there for me when I just needed somebody at the institution who understood LGBT issues and wasn’t afraid to actually talk about them.”
Ten years ago, while the university was supportive in some respects, it could still be challenging for an LGBTQ student on campus, according to Morgan. He hopes that as someone who’s been there both literally and figuratively, students will know he is available to listen to their concerns.
“I want to learn what the issues are today and where there are areas that can be improved,” Morgan said. “Garn was huge with that for me. I remember being student body president and trying to advocate for gender-neutral dorms on campus and pushing to have better student conduct rules and she was always somebody who was there to help me when I ran into challenges, or needed to figure out how to communicate things or how to talk about things. And so I’m hopeful that I can be a mentor to others the same way Garn was to me.”

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.