As a new regent, Jordan Acker is intent on improving campus relations at the University of Michigan.
By Steph Ruopp
In 2016, Jordan Acker was playing basketball when he became very ill. His liver was shutting down, but doctors couldn’t determine the exact problem. His condition eventually landed him at the University of Michigan Hospital, where he received stellar medical treatment that put him back on the road to recovery.
Once healed, Acker, of the Goodman Acker Law firm in Southfield, was inspired to give back and to contribute to the political landscape. He figured U-M, his alma mater, was a good place to start. Three years later, he’s a newly elected regent at the university that saved his life.
With 6,700 Jewish students, U-M has robust Jewish representation and an incredibly rich Jewish life, he says. Additionally, the U-M Hillel, founded in the 1920s, continues to be among the best. Jewish students add to the diversity of the campus; however, Jewish students are not completely free of the threat of anti-Semitism.
“Because, yes, there are flaws,” Acker says. “For a lot of students, [the university] might be the first place they encounter anti-Semitism. And this will be part of their adult lives. But there’s really no better place to go from being a Jewish high schooler to a Jewish adult. There’s a support network here that’s second to none.”
As Acker sees it, the university provides a fertile ground for those who experience discrimination to learn how to effectively handle it. And the Board of Regents plays a crucial role in this by enacting policies to fight discrimination and inequality on campus. Several years ago, it enacted Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) to bolster student awareness around issues like anti-Semitism.
This was one reason Acker was moved to run for regent. The Board of Regents has traditionally been occupied by those with a few more years under their belts than Acker. He was constantly told, “Young people don’t run for regents.”
Acker was certain the board could benefit from a different generational viewpoint, so he went into full hustle mode, performing as a lawyer during the day, then spending his evenings and weekends meeting people all over the state. He visited more than 50 counties and tallied more than 35,000 miles on his car to win the Democratic nomination.
Acker was sworn in Jan. 1. Along with the challenges the board faces in building awareness around anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, it also continues to take a stand against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.
“BDS comes and goes in waves,” Acker says. “It’s certainly something that has picked up steam in the last few years.”
As a Zionist, liberal and progressive, Acker regards BDS as counterproductive. In its one-pointed focus, it does nothing to promote peace and work toward cooperation, he says. At its worst, it is considered anti-Semitic.
“With the changeover in the board, the line against BDS is maintained,” Acker says. “This is the biggest thing we can do to lessen anti-Semitism.”
He credits university President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martin Philbert for striking a balance between the academic freedom of students and professors with the rights of groups on campus.
The board also continues to make it clear that boycotts of Israeli institutions have no support in the university administration.
“Divestment makes no sense,” Acker says. “The university has a fiduciary responsibility to the people of Michigan. The people have made it clear they want the university’s investments protected and are in support of the state of Israel.”
The anti-BDS stance is a regent-approved policy and one which Acker and the board intend to keep moving forward.