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The Senate Assembly met on Monday afternoon to discuss updates from the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, as well as hear from three guest speakers: one from the University of Michigan’s Office of Research, and one person each from U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn to discuss the finances of those campuses. They also voted on a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination resolution, which was unanimously endorsed by SACUA last Monday, according to SACUA Chair Colleen Conway.
The Faculty Senate voted on a vaccination resolution, which includes affirming the value of an in-person residential experience at the University; supporting the safe return of all students, faculty and staff to in-person campus activities in the fall 2021 semester as is reasonably practicable; and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff with some medical and religious exceptions.
Dinesh Pal, assistant professor in anesthesiology, spoke in favor of the resolution, saying the vaccine should be an incentive to return to work. Numerous schools have already announced that they will require community members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the fall semester. In an interview with The Michigan Daily on April 14, Schlissel said the University is still “discussing whether encouraging and incentivizing will work better than requiring or the other way around” and is not yet ready to make the vaccine mandatory.
“I think the biggest incentive is just being allowed to work,” Pal said. “So, if you don’t get it (the vaccine), you don’t get to work.”
The resolution was voted to carry 25-4 in favor, with 4 abstentions.
Conway, professor of music education, also introduced the incoming SACUA Chair Allen Liu, associate professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. Conway also introduced incoming SACUA Vice Chair Caitlin Finlayson, associate professor of English at U-M Dearborn.
Rebecca Cunningham, vice president of the Office of Research, gave an overview of the topics going on in the Office of Research, noting the office is ranked number one in research volume across all public universities and recorded over $1.6 billion of total research expenditures since the 2019 fiscal year. Cunningham also talked about how COVID-19 impacted their research and said the University is now almost completely back to pre-pandemic levels of research activity, needing only masks and distancing requirements to keep the research spaces free of COVID-19 transmission.
“We have no more capacity requirements and we’ve really had no transmission in our research spaces at all with following any of our protocols,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham then shifted to focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Office of Research, explaining how the office recently partnered with research and DEI groups across the University on creating a proposal for the National Institutes of Health Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation Program. The proposal is still under review.
“The FIRST program is incredibly important because it aims to provide evidence-based strategies that significantly impact inclusive excellence within research environments and ultimately will hopefully diversify our biomedical research workforce,” Cunningham said.
“The new Research Catalyst and Innovation program helps to leverage internal investments and seek more external support through increased collaboration through OVPR and through the schools and colleges,” Cunningham said.
Finally, Cunningham mentioned that her office is continuing to work on an initiative that aims to generate knowledge and advance solutions to decrease firearm injury across the US. Before taking her current role, Cunningham’s own research focused on firearm injury prevention.
Michael Hague, vice chancellor for business and finance at the U-M Flint campus, then moved into a discussion about the financial status of U-M Flint. Hague noted that enrollment dropped from fall 2014 to fall 2020 by 20.4%. He also said despite the campus’ 27% increase in tuition, the money has not been enough to make up for loss of revenue from the decrease in enrollment. Hague also mentioned Flint’s increase in financial aid from $6 million in the fiscal year 2015 to $9.9 million in the fiscal year 2020.
In terms of the impact from COVID-19, Hague said Flint lost $3.9 million revenue in auxiliary operations, $1.9 million of which was from housing. It is estimated $2.9 million was lost from tuition. Flint also eliminated their online course fee — 35% of courses were online pre-COVID — so they lost $2.7 million in revenue when all courses moved online.
Hague said Flint’s focus is now on recruiting and retaining students, diversifying their revenue streams, controlling and reducing costs and funding key initiatives through the allocation of resources until revenue growth is achieved.
“We’re working very hard this year with a lot of incentives for students and incentives for enrollment,” Hague said. “That’s why we started the College of Innovation and Technology to have those new technology-type programs that we feel there’s a market for. So I think that’s going to be one of the big areas that will lead to turning that enrollment around.”
Bryan Dadey, vice chancellor for business affairs at U-M Dearborn, then shared information about Dearborn’s financial status. Dadey said student tuition and fees make up 82% of their budget, and said he was disappointed in the state of Michigan’s support for higher education, citing the state’s ranking as 44th in funding per capita.
“We need the state to invest in higher education, which we haven’t seen in the last decade,” Dadey said. “Hopefully, this new decade they will start to invest at a higher level.”
Other challenges that U-M Dearborn face include decreased enrollment due to the declining high school population in Michigan, a decline in community college enrollment and student affordability and financial aid, among other issues. Dearborn projected a $6 million decrease in tuition revenue from the previous year and proposed an inflationary 1.9% increase in tuition to offset the loss.
“The 1.9 is an inflationary increase,” Dadey said. “It’s right in line with the Higher Education Price Index, so we feel very comfortable with recommending a simple inflationary increase in the tuition rate. The premiums registration fees we would hold flat.”
Dadey said U-M Dearborn’s focus is on diversifying revenue streams, improving financial aid programs, promoting new marketing and branding strategies, investing in practice-based learning affinity programs, improving advising and developing new undergraduate and graduate programs.
“Most universities would probably agree — these are the keys to remaining viable,” Dadey said.
Daily News Contributor Andrea Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.