Business as usual

BY ARIKIA MILLIKAN

Published January 15, 2008

Throughout the past week, letters have been pouring into the Daily from students outraged about the recent "oops, change of plans" surprise from the University administration that extinguished the light at the end of the class of 2008's college tunnel. One common sentiment expressed was that this little ritual we call graduation should symbolize everything we've endured here in the last four years. To hold graduation at another school would not represent the experiences we've had at this fine university. Students fear that to have such discontinuity in the process will open up some kind of wormhole, turning the world upside down and leaving them forever searching for the fulfillment they never received at their dream graduation.

But when I heard of the decision to hold Spring Commencement at Eastern Michigan University, I wasn't shocked. In fact, I couldn't think of a more appropriate way to end it all. Having observed the way the University administration has operated throughout the past four years, I could only think of one word to describe this turn of events: typical.

Most of my cynicism can probably be traced back to one of the first moments I spent here as an official Wolverine. With a group of other wide-eyed freshmen during orientation, I was piled into a lecture hall to hear what wisdom the official-looking man giving the PowerPoint presentation would bestow upon us. "The University is a business, first and foremost," I remember him saying. Although I didn't quite understand what he meant at the time, this lesson was probably the most important thing I've learned here.

I kept his words in mind when I went to my "weed out" classes and saw how my peers and I were passed off to underpaid, unenthusiastic graduate student instructors instead of real professors; when I was shoved in to inadequate classrooms with inadequate supplies while the University funneled millions of dollars into patent-pending research and lavish architectural ventures; and when I saw the University make decision after money-making decision with no regard for the people who actually keep the whole ship afloat by paying the ever-increasing tuition. I soon realized what a big business this is.

And even though I got shafted, there was one thing that really made it all come together for me: keeping track of the underhanded antics the administration used to pursue the Michigan Stadium renovation project. It was my job to report for The Michigan Daily what the administration was doing with the stadium, so I went to their meetings, looked at their documents and listened to their public relations machine parrot the same unconvincing fluff over and over again without saying much of anything. Even though administrators feigned interest in the public's opinion by conducting a fan survey designed and analyzed by Coldwater Corporation, the brainchild of Republican Party political strategist Robert Teeter, their actions made it clear that they only really cared about the bottom line. But who can blame them? They're in the business to make money, not friends. Unless they are friends with money, in which case you will find them sitting comfortably in brand new luxury boxes come 2010.

With an eye on the prize, the University's administrators steamrolled over anyone and anything who attempted to get in the way, including - but not limited to - the law, 600 University professors, the federal government, paralyzed veterans (as if there isn't a group more deserving of sympathy) and finally the graduating class of 2008.

Witnessing this chain of events was a frightening reality check. Business and politics are continuing to collide in the field of academia to provide leaders with the power that makes them so far removed from their constituents that they are able to proceed without any regard for them. And while the University continues to act as a business, it should be obvious to us now that the administration has proceeded to engage in bad business. By not acting first and foremost with regard for the most important component in the economic model, the consumer - in this case the student - is finally starting to push back.

The cynic in me, though, says that students' anger will likely be fruitless. We will never get to stand in the center of the Big House in our caps and gowns. We will probably culminate our college years in the stadium of another school because our soon-to-be alma mater has betrayed us. We should be outraged.

But I'm not. I'm not even surprised. It's just all too typical.

Arikia Millikan is a former Daily news reporter. She can be reached at arikia@umich.edu.