KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Acting at its Dec. 15 meeting, Western Michigan University's Board of Trustees approved a recommendation to honor longtime Congressman Fred Upton with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Upton is retiring in January after serving 36 years in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 6th District, which includes the areas of Kalamazoo, Portage, Benton Harbor and St. Joseph.
A campuswide committee made the recommendation to the board, noting during his tenure, Upton has “remained committed to his district and the entire state of Michigan. Our institution has greatly benefited by having a respected bipartisan leader advocating for WMU in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
“He is so proud of his ‘hometown’ university and all that it stands for. WMU and Congressman Upton share similar priorities for societal well-being and are committed to ensuring that the entire region has the support and capacity to provide the skills, research capacity and environment that is needed for our continued economic success,” the recommendation continues.
“I am honored and grateful to Western Michigan University for recognizing my public service,” Upton said. “Representing Western and advocating for the faculty, staff and students who go there has been one of my highest callings. Western has made it its mission to educate the future leaders of Michigan and our nation, and it has done an outstanding job as one of the crown jewels of Michigan’s higher education system. Over 36 years, I have enjoyed routinely being on campus and interacting with so many members of the Western community. Though WMU will have a new representative in the next Congress, I will always remain a steadfast supporter of the University.”
Upton’s dedication to bipartisanship is widely celebrated. He is a member and one-time co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. He participated in a civility tour with colleague Rep. Debbie Dingell to publicly demonstrate how to disagree in politics without being disagreeable and the importance of finding common ground. As part of the tour, Upton and Dingell collaborated with WMU President Edward Montgomery to discuss the future of civility in politics.
Upton’s focus has been on addressing the needs of the residents of his district while working with members on both sides of the aisle to accomplish this.
As chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton sponsored the 21st Century Cures Act, hailed as the most important piece of legislation passed during that Congress. It laid the foundation for Operation Warp Speed and faster drug approvals, including the first COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer at its manufacturing facility in Portage.
Most recently, Upton requested and secured a $1.5 million grant for Western’s STEM Workforce Collaboratory to offer cutting-edge approaches to diversify and expand STEM workforce pipelines.
During the pandemic, Upton sponsored the bipartisan Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act (RISE Act) to authorize approximately $26 billion in emergency relief for federal science agencies to award to research universities, independent institutions and national laboratories working on federally funded research projects.
He co-sponsored the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and supported full funding for it. He also fought for safe drinking water, including lead pipe replacement programs in Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo and Flint, and pushed bipartisan legislation to set national drinking water standards for PFAS, which are also known as “forever chemicals.” Upton also fought to keep invasive species, such as the Asian Carp, out of the Great Lakes as well as led the charge on banning microbeads, which were harming fish and contaminating the Great Lakes and other waterways.
Upton has said connecting and hearing from constituents were highlights of his career. He has responded to more than one million constituent messages, and he personally signed every response that was sent by mail. Before the pandemic, he also visited at least one school every week in the district.
“Bestowing this honorary degree upon him allows Western Michigan University to properly recognize a tireless advocate for us and Southwest Michigan,” the committee recommendation states. “Upton’s time in Congress is coming to an end; his passionate advocacy work is certainly not. He will continue to be a champion for WMU, the region and the entire state for many years to come.”
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