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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel is facing backlash from U-M faculty and campus organizations after portraying expanded tuition assistance for UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn students as a financial and academic burden on the UM-Ann Arbor campus.
In a survey sent to over 4,000 faculty, Schlissel asked faculty to rate their agreement with the statement: “UM-Ann Arbor should provide funding for students at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn to benefit from the Go Blue Guarantee even if it means sacrificing academic excellence or lower salary growth on the Ann Arbor campus.” Screenshots of the survey, which is part of Schlissel’s annual formal evaluation, were posted by faculty to Twitter Wednesday. Schlissel also asked faculty in the survey about their comfort level with in-person teaching and their satisfaction with progress on U-M diversity and inclusion efforts.
The Go Blue Guarantee campaign, launched for the UM-Ann Arbor campus in 2018, offers free tuition for in-state families with collective incomes under $65,000. In the years since, representatives from U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn have worked to bring the program to their respective campuses to increase its outreach to students. UM-Ann Arbor campus community members have also called for the program to be extended to the satellite campuses.
The phrasing of the Go Blue Guarantee question on the survey received backlash from faculty because of its implication that the University would have to sacrifice the quality of education and faculty in exchange for affordability for students, multiple faculty members told The Michigan Daily.
The U-M Office of Public Affairs did not respond directly to a question of whether Schlissel believes extending the Go Blue Guarantee to UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn would “sacrifice academic excellence” and “lower salary growth” at UM-Ann Arbor.
In an interview with The Daily last month, Schlissel said the leadership of UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn were considering instituting the Go Blue Guarantee on their own.
“If they decided to do a Go Blue Guarantee, they would take money away from somewhere else,” Schlissel said. “So they’re making the balancing act or values judgement about what is best needed on each of their campuses.”
Schlissel said the Ann Arbor campus instituted the guarantee because it had very few students from the bottom 50% of the socioeconomic strata in the state of Michigan.
“We wanted to invest in making sure that Michigan in Ann Arbor was accessible to people throughout the economic spectrum,” Schlissel said.
42% of UM-Dearborn and 39% of UM-Flint students qualify for the Pell Grant, a federal grant awarded to high-achieving students with financial need, who are not eligible to receive Go Blue Guarantee benefits as they are not enrolled on the Ann Arbor campus. 15% of UM-Ann Arbor students qualify for the Pell Grant.
One University, a faculty- and student-led group that advocates for equitable funding across the University’s three campuses, released a statement condemning the wording of Schlissel’s survey and calling for an apology.
The One University campaign said the survey “traffics in the most base classist and racist assumptions about our students;” “pits working-class students at Flint and Dearborn against faculty salaries at UM-Ann Arbor;” “threatens (faculty) with lower salaries if they support those (lower-income) students;” “implies that it is exclusively the priorities of the Ann Arbor campus that matter when formulating university policy;” and is “clearly designed to elicit a particular result, which happens to align with the policy preferences of the President.”
The One University campaign said Schlissel shows favoritism for the Ann Arbor campus in the wording in his survey and actions.
“President Schlissel is nakedly acting like the Chancellor of the Ann Arbor campus when his charge is to represent, support, and champion all three of our campuses,” the statement reads.
Jennifer Miller, lecturer of anatomy, physiology and microbiology at U-M-Flint, expressed her disapproval of Schlissel’s survey and the implications it made, saying that the question posed on the survey was invalid because of the biases it exhibited.
“Either you’re supporting Dearborn and Flint or you don’t — that’s what the choice was between essentially,” Miller said. “With his statement, he was really trying to … just direct people to disagree because you don’t want to affect academic excellence on Ann Arbor’s campus.”
In an email to The Daily, U-M spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote that Schlissel’s question asks whether faculty would be supportive of reallocating funding that covers expenditures from one campus to another. She added that each campus decides on faculty salaries individually.
“Each campus creates a balanced budget annually that details its own tuition revenue, state appropriation and campus expenditures, which include academic programs and faculty and staff salaries,” Broekhuizen wrote.
LSA junior Bennett Walling also pointed out the flaws in the correlation between the establishment of the program at the Flint and Dearborn campuses and a decrease in quality of education.
“The idea that it juxtaposes including low-income students with academic excellence — just that as a baseline is horrible,” Walling said. “It’s this idea that low-income students would be even more prevalent which would somehow lower the quality of our education.”
Representatives of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) said they viewed the phrasing in the survey as a manipulation and a threat, as they are currently in the middle of bargaining for a new contract that seeks to address the inequities in lecturer salaries between the three campuses.
A Daily analysis found in April that UM-Flint faculty had a median salary of $63,386.46, UM-Dearborn faculty had a median salary of $77,822.24 and UM-Ann Arbor faculty had a median salary of $145,794.64 in 2020.
Andrew Thompson, School of Art and Design lecturer and LEO member, said he interpreted Schlissel’s question as a threat.
“I feel like (Schlissel) will use this to leverage against faculty in Ann Arbor or against students and faculty in Dearborn and Flint.”
The LEO bargaining, which was supposed to have concluded by the end of April, has continued because of the disputes over salaries.
Miller spoke on the inequity between campuses in salaries for lecturers, which has been a long-standing issue that the LEO has been fighting to change in their upcoming contract.
“The lecturers make on average $10,000 less than if we were to go to Ann Arbor… actually (lecturers) on the Flint and Dearborn campus, teach more classes than faculty on (the Ann Arbor) campus, not all,” Miller said. “There’s quite a few that do the same load on all three campuses, but the fact that we are paid so significantly less is essentially telling us we’re not as good. And that’s not fair. It’s not right.”
Thompson expanded on the frustration felt by members of LEO that this survey question was included when they were evaluating Schlissel.
“I got really angry because we’re in the middle of our contract negotiation,” Thompson said. “And one of the biggest things we’re fighting for is pay parity for lectures on Dearborn, Flint and Ann Arbor campuses, and the University has …. moved (only) a tiny bit.”
According to Miller, the historical inequities between the Ann Arbor campus and the Flint and Dearborn campuses have resulted in differences in the student bodies and success of the students.
“We don’t have the students that typically have families with six-figure incomes — those are a lot of the students that will go to Ann Arbor, so it does have that elitist nature to it,” Miller said. ”But a lot of that is due to what the central administration is doing and how they’re treating Dearborn and Flint. So it’s very elitist, it’s very arrogant and it’s reprehensible.”
Daille Held, first-year transfer student at the UM-Dearborn, said the University’s treatment of the UM-Dearborn makes her feel as if she’s not getting the same education as she would have if she were attending the Ann Arbor campus.
“It’s very infuriating that Dearborn students need to prove that we’re deserving of the same quality of education that Ann Arbor has just always had,” Held said.Addressing the Go Blue Guarantee program, Miller said she did not believe academic excellence at the Ann Arbor campus would be impacted with the addition of the program at the Dearborn and Flint campuses.
“The University of Michigan has a $12 billion endowment,” Miller said. “Flint and Dearborn students are leaving college with more debt than most, and that is not right. It is morally, ethically wrong to continue to do this to the students in Flint and Dearborn.”
Walling also said the Go Blue Guarantee program is important in terms of increasing diversity on campus.
“Having students who might not be able to afford to come to the University, to be able to come to the University is big,” Walling said. “There’s so many voices, so many brilliant minds that are able to be nurtured and developed. I think there is nothing to lose by increasing diversity.”
Thompson said the administration’s first priority should be students, especially those who will continue living in Michigan upon graduating. Thompson said, given the University’s large endowment, the Board of Regents should be capable of making a decision that will better benefit the students on the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
“They want to run the University like a business, and they’ve been very good at that, which is why we have such a huge endowment,” Thompson said. “They’re very good at running it like a business, but they forget they’re a state institution. Most of the students in Flint and Dearborn are Michigan students, and they’re going to stay in Michigan after graduating.”
In a statement, LEO condemned what it sees as Schlissel’s attitude towards UM-Flint and Dearborn, and urged faculty to vote to support expanding the Go Blue Guarantee program.
LEO pointed out that 11 other colleges and universities in the state of Michigan have free-tuition programs similar to the Go Blue Guarantee.
“Instead of giving those (Flint and Dearborn) campuses the tools to attract these students, President Schlissel is content to continue to defund the campuses, all in pursuit of the elitist quest to protect the brand of U-M,” the LEO statement reads.
Summer News Editor Jared Dougall and Daily Staff Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Thompson as a professor. The article has been updated to reflect that he is a lecturer.