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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday afternoon to hear from Debasish Dutta, chancellor of the University of Michigan–Flint, on the state of the satellite campus nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee also discussed improving communication between members of the Senate Assembly and Faculty Senate and their respective units. They also prioritized important issues to raise during a future conversation with University Provost Susan M. Collins, such as plans for the fall 2021 semester and vaccine distribution among students.
Dutta outlined the unique challenges the Flint campus faces with its largely in-state student population, as compared to the Ann Arbor campus, where about half of undergraduates come from out-of-state. Dutta said he is concerned that the number of high school graduates in the state of Michigan will continue to decline throughout this decade, diminishing the pool of potential in-state students. With tuition as a major source of revenue, this poses a threat to the campus’ fiscal stability, Dutta said.
“When high school graduates decline, Ann Arbor gets more aggressive, Michigan State gets more aggressive,” Dutta said. “Who’s going to lose?”
On top of that, Dutta said that U-M Flint’s funds from the state of Michigan are limited. According to the Higher Education Appropriations report for fiscal year 2020-2021, Flint receives the second-lowest state appropriation across Michigan’s 15 public universities at over $23 million, compared to the Ann Arbor campus’ appropriation of over $322 million.
Dutta said these disparities are in part due to the newness of the Flint satellite campus, which was founded in 1956. Nonetheless, in facing these financial challenges and seeing a steady decline in enrollment over the past six years, Dutta said the Flint campus has two main priorities: improving public perception and marketing themselves more to both high school students and adults, as well as pursuing fiscal stability. Beyond cutting costs, Dutta stressed the need to reinvest in programs that serve the market of adults seeking online degrees, who are often targeted by for-profit universities.
“If I just keep (cutting costs only), it’s a race to the bottom,” Dutta said. “All the cost-cutting which I am doing, I am repurposing to academics because if we do not create programs in demand for the future, even fewer students will come. We have to modernize our offerings … such that we can compete for that shrinking population of Michigan students.”
Information professor Kentaro Toyama asked whether Dutta has considered the possibility of a consistent subsidy from the Ann Arbor campus, alluding to SACUA’s past discussions of the One University Campaign. Toyama said he considers it a “shame” the University of Michigan hasn’t invested more in its regional campuses.
Dutta said he does not personally consider support from Ann Arbor a priority, but that he thinks the question also depends on whether the campuses all represent one university or three — a frequent subject of debate among SACUA as well as among students involved in the 1U Campaign.
“I don’t want Flint or any other institution to be receiving money just because you feel sorry for us,” Dutta said. “That’s not going to help us. We have to fend for ourselves. We have to be entrepreneurial.”
The 1U Campaign was launched in 2018 by students and faculty to equitably distribute resources between the three campuses. For the past few years, members of the 1U Campaign have put pressure on administrators to expand resources like a health service and the Go Blue Guarantee to Flint and Dearborn. SACUA has previously discussed urging the University to offer the GBG on all three campuses.
SACUA also discussed the agenda for their meeting next Monday, which Collins will be attending. Annalisa Manera, Engineering professor and SACUA vice chair, said there needs to be more transparency and details regarding plans for the fall semester and vaccine distribution.
“It’s quite unclear right now,” Manera said. “Are they going to start with students? Are they going to start with faculty?”
The University’s administration previously announced their optimism that the fall 2021 semester would be “more normal,” as compared to the current semester’s online learning. Concrete plans for the fall semester are set to be announced mid-March.
In preparation for the meeting with Collins, SACUA chair Colleen Conway, professor in the school of Music, Theatre & Dance, suggested that each representative on SACUA communicate with the individual units, departments and colleges they represent. The committee had mixed reviews of how communicative Senate Assembly members are with their respective units. SACUA is the 9-member executive board, while Senate Assembly is the body of 74 elected representatives that advise the University on policies concerning faculty interests.
“I’d have to say that in all my time at the university, I’ve never received any communication from any Senate Assembly member in LSA about anything,” Neil Marsh, Medical School professor, said.
The next Senate Assembly meeting will take place on March 15. May 10 will be their final meeting of the semester.
Daily Staff Reporter Julianna Morano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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