In an interview with The Eastern Echo, Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley granted insight into Governor Snyder’s administration, outlined ways in which Eastern Michigan University is a national leader in autism research and explained the virtue in “taking chances and being bold” as a graduate in the state of Michigan.
“Sometimes the risk or the fear of failure will hold people back from trying to do big things,” Calley said. “All of the people in American history that left an enduring mark on the world, those folks really stepped out and took chances. I want to inspire graduates to expect, demand and to change the world and not to be afraid of failure because failure is just one way to identify a way not to do it.”
In addition to sharing the importance of taking chances, Calley said it’s important to realize and cherish the value of having a mentor.
“Sometimes in college you feel like you can do it all on your own, but you don’t have to,” he said. “There are people out there that will take a chance on you. I think if I had understood the power of those relationships earlier, I could have done even more. You can learn something from anyone. I always say you’re never too old to be a mentor and never too young to be a mentor.”
Calley said he was particularly pleased to receive the invite to be the commencement speaker during the 2 p.m. April 29 commencement ceremony because of the “excellent work” Eastern has done in the field of autism treatment, research and education.
“That’s an issue that is very close to my heart because I have a daughter with autism,” Calley said. “There are not very many organizations and businesses or universities that have been engaged in autism treatment and research like EMU has.”
Calley said Eastern was an “early adopter” in its autism research.
“Eastern was one of those institutions that decided it was worth taking a chance and putting resources into it even though the playing field was a challenge in Michigan before now,” he said. “I think we’re well positioned to be a national leader.”
Calley: Policy changes turned around the state
Calley, who was born and raised in Michigan, became interested in politics after spending 10 years as a community banker and small business lender. While working in the banking industry, Calley said he saw public policies develop that ignored the “explosive employment” potential within the state.
“I didn’t see very effective advocacy in Michigan politics and policy banking for the small and midsized companies that are already here in Michigan and already on the ground and doing some exciting things,” he said.
“Instead, the focus was on out of state companies to come to Michigan and while that’s still an area we need to focus on, it was Michigan based employers that were community leaders that I thought was a better place to focus.”
Calley, who is the second youngest lieutenant governor in Michigan history, was sworn into office Jan.1 of last year on the steps at the state Capitol in Lansing. Assuming the role was a large undertaking since the Michigan economy was said to be in disrepair by many critics.
Calley said he along with Governor Rick Snyder have managed the state’s fiscal crisis well.
“We have now in place a structurally solid budget for the first time in a very long time in Michigan, and we did so in expedited pace,” he said. “We also took the state from being the second worst in the nation in terms of our corporate tax policies to being the seventh best and that’s really made a big impact on employers willing to expand in Michigan.”
Calley acknowledged the Snyder administration was faced with a large amount of opposition, but he believes many Michiganders understood what they were trying to do.
“They understand that the state can’t continue to overspend, and even though it’s painful through this transition and reinvention process and we’re starting to see all of the fruits of those efforts,” he said. “We just ask for folks to be patient and hang in there with us until we can see these policies implemented. The state’s economy [is] improving. The important thing is we’re seeing many improvements at a pace even faster than we expected.”
Calley: Reinvesting in higher education is a top priority
Calley also addressed allegations of him and the governor not being completely invested in education after state appropriations were cut to the state’s 15 public institutions.
“That’s definitely not true,” he said. “The governor and I have both benefited greatly from Michigan’s educational institutions. If you look at the policies that we have been advocating for and implementing in Michigan, it’s all about building a system around the students as opposed to building a system around the adults that run it.”
Calley said a fundamental change has occurred and that the argument shouldn’t be around the money but instead what’s best for students.
“That’s the game changer, making sure all of our institutions starting with early childhood are geared toward helping students gain the skills necessary to be employable,” he said. “Even though our education systems in Michigan have been successful in teaching students certain things, those students, the things we teach aren’t demanding enough for the workplace and that’s where we’re putting most of our energy and focus.”
Calley said while he believes universities such as EMU should be rewarded for tuition restraint, the Snyder administration is looking at additional factors.
“We would also like to reward schools that accommodate Pell Grants and beyond that, those that graduate students with STEM degrees,” he said. “Those are the fields where there is the highest demand for employment and for those schools that figure out how to ramp up their graduates with that sort of skills, we will reward them for that as well. We take all of these factors and we believe that universities that focus on getting students ready for careers that are available and with skills that are demanded in the marketplace should be rewarded in addition to those that keep costs low.”
Calley: Employers can’t fill the 80,000 jobs currently available
The Michigan Talent Bank currently has 85,740 jobs available and Calley said employers are struggling to fill the positions. While he doesn’t believe universities should steer students toward specific fields, he thinks it’s the responsibility of higher education leaders to help students make well-informed decisions.
“At the end of the day it still needs to be a student’s choice as to what they go into,” he said. “We need to make sure they understand where the opportunities are and when it comes to using taxpayer expenditures to support higher education, we do want them directed more at employable careers versus the types of degrees that aren’t likely to lead toward any gainful employment.”
“Our most precious resource is our young people who are graduating from college.”