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Posted on Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

New U-M regent Mark Bernstein's focus stays on affordability as he prepares to take seat on board

By Ben Freed

By plastering his name on billboards across the state and dispatching a school bus with a fresh coat of paint to various sporting events and festivals, Mark Bernstein made it very clear that he wanted to be a University of Michigan regent.

Bernstein, one of’s “Ones to Watch in 2013,” got his wish when voters elected him to an eight-year term on the board in November. With campaigning over, his attention has turned to learning as much as he can about the university as he prepares to take office on Jan. 1.


Mark Bernstein will begin his eight-year term as a University of Michigan regent beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

Courtesy Mark Bernstein

“It’s an immensely complex institution and it will take some time to learn how to be effective from the inside,” he said.

“… Anyone who comes in saying, ‘under my leadership we’re going to do this, this and that' is not being very honest. They have no idea how complex and large in terms of scope and scale this university is.”

As he wraps his head around the myriad of issues that will face him as a regent, the one that stands out is the same one he made his calling card on the campaign trail.

“The most pressing urgent issue is still affordability,” he said.

“We have to make sure that the University of Michigan is open and accessible to all students regardless of their economic circumstance.”

In the run-up to the election, Bernstein floated a number of ideas for making U-M more affordable, including using the university’s AAA credit rating to directly lend money to students at far lower rates than available elsewhere.

Now that he’s been elected, Bernstein isn’t backing down from those ideas, but he does acknowledge that the process of bringing them to fruition will not be quick or easy.

“It’s a long-term view. It’s like turning a super tanker,” he said.

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“… That comes down to a few things. The internal budget process and a vote on tuition are two of the big ones, but it’s about asking very thoughtful questions about the priorities of the university. I’m very interested in listening to the very capable people who are running the university and asking them for their guidance on how to address these priorities.”

Bernstein plans to approach his new position in a distinctly different manner than he has employed as president of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm.

“There’s an important line between governance and management,” he said of his father's firm.

“The board of regents need to govern. I do not believe that we’re there to manage. It’s the board’s role to establish direction in collaboration with the university’s leadership and then to stay out of the weeds while it’s implemented.”

On a governance level, Bernstein believes that the state’s lack of financial support is one of the biggest threats facing not just the University of Michigan, but all public institutions of higher education.

“It goes to the larger question of what kind of state do we want to be,” he said.

“The states with the highest per capita income, like Maryland, have the highest educational payout rate. Those states are investing in education and the educational infrastructure. They’re attracting the type of employers that want that educated workforce.”

One area where Bernstein sees the university as primed to take a leadership role in 2013 is in the increased use of digital technology in teaching. The opportunities made available by utilizing the technology are both fiscal and philosophical.

“It has the possibility of generating revenue and cutting costs,” Bernstein said.

“But it’s also a powerful way to spread the knowledge the university has far beyond the physical confines of the campus," he said.

It’s only the first year of an eight-year term, but eyes will be on Bernstein and fellow new regent Shauna Ryder Diggs when major questions arise at board meetings this year about tuition, unions and college affordability.

“Now is the time to look at this and evaluate what the possibilities are within the framework of the values I’ve articulated,” he said.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to serve one of the great public institutions of the world, and I don’t think that’s an overstatement.”

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

Am I wrong in seeing a not-quite-neutral slant to the first paragraph of this item? "Plastered" - really?

Ben Freed

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

Arborani, there was nothing non-neutral meant in the word plastered. It's simply a verb describing covering or coating something. I hope that no one took any offense.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:49 p.m.

A byproduct of his father serves no good to modern society. As Shakespeare said ...


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

Too many people at the U are making a total compensation package of well over $100,000/year. The biggest expense at the U is compensation. Therefore I feel that the most efficient and easy way to make college more affordable is to have a 10% cut for all employees in total compensation. For those making over $150,000 in total compensation, I would propose a 15% cut. Over $500,000 in total compensation, a 20% cut. For Pres. Coleman and hospital head Pescovitz, this would be about $400,000 saved just between the two of them. Coach Hoke would add hundreds of thousands more. U of M is not a private enterprise, it is a state institution. The state is in a sorry state when it comes to it's finances. These extraordinary times call for drastic measures. I feel for the workers, but they have had many years of fat, now it needs to be balanced with a few years of lean. Many in the private economy and those who are self employed are making only half of what they were making a few years ago. Education is about the students. We need to make college affordable. Plain and simple. The largest cost that can be controlled is pay and benefits. We can't let greed cause students to not be able to attend university.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

Mark, actually my income is down over 30% with the recession, as are many others in the private sector. And many more are without jobs. So I consider a 10% cut as substantial but not unsustainable. As for the cost of a college education not being determined by salaries and benefits, that doesn't make sense. If university costs are lower, then less tuition is needed to cover those costs. Beardown, M is not a private company, it is a state institution supported by taxpayers and tuition. Apples and oranges. The state shouldn't control a private business. The bosses of the company can do that. And when times are tough, private businesses cut pay drastically. Look what GM did with new hire pay. Down about 50%. With U of M, the bosses are the state and its taxpayers. Don't forget the main focus is the students and their families have to have affordable tuition. I worked my way through college in 4 years and paid all my expenses and left without debt. It was difficult and included things like working as a live in servant; hitchhiking to school, being very frugal. Nowadays, that would be impossible to get a quality 4 year degree without graduating with lots of debt unless one comes from a well to do family that will support their adult child.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

Most every company of Umich's size has a large group of people making 100k a year. A better focus would be to see how much money they bring in. Coleman's salary is a good deal when you compare it to the amount of money that she brings into the university. The same with a lot of the top flight professors.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

Hmm, I agree on those making high 6 figures, but many of us have been getting little in the way of raises for the past decade. Would YOU take a 10% pay cut? If I were not part of a dual-income household, I would not be able to live in Ann Arbor. The going rate for a college education isn't determined by how much the staff are paid.

Mackinac Straits

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

Good for you, Mr. Bernstein and your focus on affordability. Overpaying for a degree and a bloated, high-cost University bureaucracy by draining family resources and loading up its students with debt is wrong. The cracks in this system are emerging throughout higher education. The University needs to address this issue before it becomes a crisis.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

Slip and fall on U of M property? Motorcycle accident on campus? Mary Sue Coleman's dog bit you? You know who to call.....1-800-CALL-SAM!

Dog Guy

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

January 1 and I am already blown away. I don't know even the name of any other regent anywhere. Bernstein for Governor in 2014! Getting the Nobel Peace Prize this December will boost his name recognition. In 2016 someone will be elected to replace Obama (I HOPE), so Go Bernstein!


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

One word worthless!

Silly Sally

Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

I'm glad that he is concerned about college affordability. He can start by reducing UM's spending which directly leads to higher costs. Finding ways to loan money to students only feeds the beast. Fancy dorms that cost more for 4 beds than a condo; new building construction each and every year, and a bloated staff all contribute to costs that the regents seek to pay for via tuition and dorm fees. This is one reason why college costs have been rising at a much higher rate that the general inflation rate. 30 years ago, a student could work his or her way through college. Sadly, this is no longer true.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

Mark, while the university is surely a complex place, blaming "reduced state funding" for rising UM costs is the most cliched, tired and completely illegitimate excuse there is. Blaming the state for how much tuition costs is like blaming your credit card company for your bankruptcy. It's ridiculous, especially in this situation, where the university is sitting on a historically huge endowment. Getting less money from the state means you spend less, not more. If an organization fails to acknowledge and/or heed that basic reality, they have noone and nothing but themselves to blame.


Tue, Jan 1, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

The only place where there is bloated staff is at the higher levels of the administration. Most units have been trying to do more with less, and in some cases, reducing some staff to part time to reduce benefits and costs. UM is a huge, huge beast, when you include the Medical Campus, North Campus, Central Campus, outlying facilities, and the loosely affiliated UM Dearborn and UM Flint campuses. The key factor affecting tuition is that the state support of UM is so very paltry. 40 years ago it was significant. On top of all of that, regulatory processes, complexity of infrastructure, and the business of education cost money and require lots of people to make it all work. Should tuition for in-state students be less? Of course. But to imply that the solution is simply done by looking at a few well- worn cliches about UM that pop up every time the topic comes up, is not helpful. UM and other large research universities are no longer the homey little places they were 50 years ago. I am sure Mark Bernstein knows this and will be a thoughtful and imaginative regent.