Meet Our Union Monday: Regent Paul Brown
Every Monday, look forward to meeting another one of your fellow union members and hearing about how they got involved in LEO. This series is a way for us to learn about our fellow Lecs, and remind ourselves that We Are the Union!
This week, learn more about member emeritus Paul Brown! Paul was a member of LEO for several years as a Lecturer in the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering, on Ann Arbor’s North Campus. In November, he was elected to the University of Michigan Board of Regents, our ultimate governing body! Lecturers across the university celebrated having one of our own elected to such an important position, as well as seeing the fruits of our labor canvassing and phone banking in support of Paul, prior to the November election.
In this interview, read about Regent Brown’s longterm connections to Michigan (state and university), his road to the Regents’ table, and his hopes and dreams for his time in the Room Where It Happens—including his commitment to the 1U campaign. If you’d like to learn more about the 1U coalition, sign up for the listserv here, and/or consider sitting in on a SPACE Committee meeting (sign up for information here)!
What’s the Paul Brown backstory?
I grew up in Northern Michigan, mostly in Petoskey. I came down to the U of M for undergrad and got a history degree (I love history; I’m still passionate about it, and am currently the chair of the Michigan history foundation). I spent a year working for a big law firm in New York City, came back went to law school at Wayne State, then I was a federal law clerk, went back to New York City and was there for many years. Then one thing led to another and I decided to get my MBA back here.
Even though I grew up up North— and to be honest, my mind and morals are still small town Northern Michigan—I had had exposure to University of Michigan at a very young age. My father was a Regent, and he was tied for the longest serving regent in Michigan history, 24 years, although he left the board about a quarter century ago. But at least I had that exposure.
What was the hardest part of the campaign?
It was definitely the travel, and being away from family. I joke that the Regents have all of the [same] geography to cover as the “important” candidates—ahem, air quotes—with none of the resources. So, you know, you’re doing your own scheduling, you’re doing your own fundraising, you’re doing your own social media, you’re doing your own driving—I blew up a car!
Don’t worry, I didn’t run it out of oil, but the timing belt jumped and that fried the engine…so, yes, lots of the miles, lots of cold February nights in Gladwin and Manistee and Negaunee and everywhere else—that was the hardest part, just being on the road all the time.
What about the most rewarding?
It’s kind of the same thing—the other side [of all the travel]. Just being in a bunch of communities that I haven’t been in in a long time and talking to people who are really passionate. It’s bad enough that I was having to drive hours and hours to spend my Tuesday nights away from my family, but I’m running for a position I’m passionate about, and hopefully I get to feel the rewards of making a difference.
The people that were there on those cold February nights? They’re just there because they care. And so that was really inspiring.
What does it look like when you start your term? I don’t know if it’s appropriate to say ‘what’s on your agenda’—but, well, what’s on your agenda?
I’ve started to be “onboarded” as they’re calling it, and the onboarding process—
Yes, LARGE binders! the University is a huge and sprawling enterprise, and I am drinking from the fire hose! I think I came in with probably a little more knowledge and understanding of it than most, and I still can’t believe how much I have to learn.
And yes, I have an agenda, so to speak—I have a top ten list of things that I think need to be done. But I approach that very humbly. [I have] two main philosophies—the first I came up with, and the other is my father’s. The first is kind of the Hippocratic oath: Do No Harm. This is one of the greatest institutions in the world—don’t screw it up! And then as my dad said: you still don’t know what you don’t know. For a little while you’ve got to keep your eyes and your ears open and your mouth shut.
Tell us a little about your history with Unions.
I grew up in a very progressive, union household. My dad was part of a family business that had similar competitors and out of those we were the only union shop. My mom was a union member, she was a teamster for a while, and we were the type of family that talked politics around the dinner table, and it often revolved around the importance and the need for unions. And so that’s just kind of in my DNA.
And then when I started teaching at U of M [as a Lecturer in the School of Engineering], I obviously signed my union card first chance I had. But even between those times, when I wasn’t a union member, I was active as I could be in progressive, union and Democratic causes. I’ve knocked more doors, licked more envelopes and made more phone calls than I can count.
How can LEO work well with the Regents going forward?
I sincerely believe that all of the Regents want what’s best for the University and feel sympathetic to us LEO members—in fact, I think they were shocked to learn what they did during the process of our negotiation of the last contract. Just keep in mind that, like me, they all have day jobs. And they all have a relatively finite amount of time to devote to learning about these issues. And there are zillions—a zillion really important things that they have to understand. And so I think how we can work with the Regents is to just be more engaged even when it’s not a contract year, and really give them as succinct of an education as we can about our issues.
Speaking of education, I was just in another meeting where we were talking about LEO’s 1U Campaign. I know you’re aware of 1U—what are your thoughts on that campaign so far?
Yes, I’m very much aware. I went to the community forum in Dearborn, would’ve liked to have gone to the Flint one but it was at the exact same time as the Dearborn one, and I went to the community forum here in Ann Arbor. And I think it’s a great campaign, and I think the infographic flyer that we made up is awesome and we have to distribute it wide and far.
We need to come to the board of Regents with fully baked solutions. If all we do is go to Regents meetings or have community forums pointing out and complaining about these inequities—which is legitimate!—I don’t think that’s enough to achieve our goals. I think the only way we can get the board to get it done is to come to them [and say]: here it is. It’s in four corners of a document. And we have to understand all of the unintended consequences that happen because of these changes, and there will be many, and we have to come up with mitigation strategies for those unintended consequences.
Because I’ve been in a bureaucracy at the state for a couple of years, and that is one of the tools that opponents of these changes use: the bureaucracy. We can’t pay all the Lecturers the same, because of XYZ consequence. [And those consequences are] legitimate, some of them! So we have to already have answers for those, or they’ll just rope-a-dope us to death.
One of the reasons I’m very excited about this position is because I feel that two of the greatest challenges of our time are cost and accessibility of higher education and health care. And U of M is in the center of both of those—in many ways, so goes U of M, so go a lot of other institutions in its class. So go a lot of other universities, so go a lot of other health care systems. So if we can go a long way to solving some of those problems or improving upon them at University of Michigan, we can have a really broad impact on the rest of the state and the rest of the country. Like the problem with Dearborn and Flint, like the 1U campaign, as well as inclusion and cost and health care in higher education generally.
If we can’t solve [these problems] at University of Michigan, where can they be solved? And if we don’t solve them now, when will they be solved? So I hope to be really aggressive in solving them…once I figure out how to find the bathroom in the Regents room.
MEET OUR UNION MONDAY — THE CLASSICS!
If you could live in another century, which would you choose (excluding the 21st or 20th)?
The next one.
What superpower would you least like to have?
Reading people’s minds.
What’s your favorite LEO slogan?
Respect the lecs is a great one. And it encompasses everything that I think our campaign was about.
Go Blue Vote Brown by the way—a great slogan.
You like that? Thank you. I don’t know if I can take full credit for that. I think some of my sisters helped refine that one.