Earlier this month, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government approved a proposal requesting $10,000 from the CSG budget to fund a rally for tri-campus equity, which ultimately took place yesterday. The decision came in the wake of the backlash to a survey question making the implication that tuition assistance at U-M Dearborn and U-M Flint would be a burden for the Ann Arbor campus. The question was part of a survey sent to over 4,000 faculty by University President Mark Schlissel. Although Schlissel has since apologized (albeit discreetly) for the incident, the clear bias demonstrated by his phrasing represents a problem that runs much longer and deeper than one survey question.
Schlissel’s implication that the success of U-M Ann Arbor is mutually exclusive to that of U-M Dearborn and U-M Flint demonstrates that he, and the University’s administration, have only a surface-level commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Showing true commitment to DEI at the University of Michigan entails expanding the Go Blue Guarantee to Dearborn and Flint. Providing support to all campuses, and therefore to low-income students at all campuses, is the bare minimum. His actions exemplify bias toward U-M Ann Arbor, especially as he formulates a narrative that the success of the regional campuses is and will be at the expense of Ann Arbor. We condemn Schlissel’s refusal to support low-income students at the regional campuses of the University of Michigan — the entirety of which he was chosen to serve, regional campuses included. We support CSG’s decision to allocate funds for tri-campus equity efforts. We encourage other student efforts moving forward to promote Flint and Dearborn voices, including within the One University campaign as well as the Lecturers’ Employee Organization.
Out of the University’s three campuses, Ann Arbor students have the highest median income and the lowest proportion of students eligible for Pell Grants. The University of Michigan loves to tout its commitment to DEI and uses the Go Blue Guarantee program on the Ann Arbor campus to do so, but this commitment is clearly only surface-level when the administration has been so hesitant to expand this financial support program to all three campuses. It seems as though the University considers low-income students benefiting from the Go Blue Guarantee as pawns in their DEI initiatives, and only here to market U-M Ann Arbor as “inclusive.”
If support for low-income students is truly about inclusivity, why would the administration be reluctant to branch the Go Blue Guarantee program to the regional campuses? Not extending this program exacerbates the barrier to higher education that low-income Flint and Dearborn students already face. It also signals to the Ann Arbor students receiving the Go Blue Guarantee that the administration’s purpose in implementing the program comes more from public relations concerns than from genuine care about low-income students. It is imperative to the University’s commitment to DEI that the Go Blue Guarantee is available to all U-M students, including and especially those at Flint and Dearborn that need it most.
Additionally, Schlissel’s survey question highlights a troubling attitude that exists in Ann Arbor — one that constantly “others” Flint and Dearborn, including faculty and their students. Along with other responsibilities, Schlissel’s job as the president of the University of Michigan is to cohesively lead all three campuses, not to further inter-campus divides. Schlissel’s survey question further perpetuates the otherization of Flint and Dearborn. To insinuate that the basic needs of Flint and Dearborn would exist at the expense of Ann Arbor is a way of splitting and stratifying our community, by convincing the Ann Arbor campus that the continuation of a lack of support for the other two campuses is essential to our campus’ success. President Schlissel’s question also exemplifies an effort to portray the issue as a zero-sum game; one must come at the expense of the other. While expanding the program wouldn’t have a negligible cost, it’s difficult to believe these costs would have a severe impact on Ann Arbor, especially considering the University of Michigan is one of the richest universities in America.
We must consider the question: Does the University’s administration believe that underfunding campuses with higher proportions of low-income students is necessary for our success as a school, despite our massive endowment? The job of the University of Michigan as a public university is, first and foremost, to offer higher education to those in the state of Michigan. Schlissel — the president who has allowed tuition to rise higher than any other public university in the U.S. — continues to ignore servicing the needs of the public that he was chosen to serve.
Furthermore, even when apologizing — due to backlash from members of all three campuses — Schlissel only addressed the word choice within this particular question, rather than acknowledging the full scope of inequity between campuses. The attitude shown by Schlissel and the administration is especially problematic as it disconnects Ann Arbor from Dearborn and Flint, enabling perceptions of those two campuses as inferior or even unworthy of the basic resources and respect that Ann Arbor receives. Ultimately, equitability between campuses cannot stop at the Go Blue Guarantee; we must also address the perpetuation of these attitudes.
Although administration bears the brunt of responsibility in addressing tri-campus inequity, we must also acknowledge the role we can play as students on the Ann Arbor campus. CSG’s decision to allocate funds toward tri-campus equity efforts is an important one. Efforts to advocate for equity must involve empowering voices from the Flint and Dearborn campuses and, moving forward, demonstrations should ensure this is true through both funding and thorough campus organizing efforts. Perhaps more symbolically, the allocation of funds to this cause demonstrates a willingness to dedicate U-M Ann Arbor resources to the betterment of all three schools. We also want to acknowledge the work that LEO has done for tri-campus efforts, including through their protest earlier this week. Collaborations between students and faculty, as well as between campuses, are especially important in forwarding this cause.
If President Schlissel and U-M administration truly care about inclusion, they will expand the Go Blue Guarantee to all three campuses. However, tri-campus equity efforts cannot stop there. The idea that the success of one must come at the expense of the others only perpetuates problematic perceptions about Dearborn and Flint. The otherization of the regional campuses must be addressed, and President Schlissel must fulfill his obligations as a leader of all three campuses by unifying, not dividing. Both administrators and students must be dedicated to ending this perception moving forward as a truly unified and equitable University of Michigan.