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The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.

In June 2019, the Board of Regents approved a $500 per semester fee for all international students with F or J visa status on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. 

The fee was originally designed “to address increased costs and expansion of services during a time of declining state support and pressures on the university’s finances.” Activist groups on campus have since criticized the University for the fee and for what they said was a lack of transparency about what services the funds would be financing. 

In a May 2020 Michigan Daily op-ed written by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the organization criticized the University for enacting the fee and labeled it “discriminatory.” They specifically condemned the University for continuing to charge the fee during the COVID-19 pandemic,, even as many international students were studying remotely in their home countries.. GEO also launched a petition in August 2019 that called for increased transparency from the University as to what the fee funded.

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote the funding goes to support international students on campus as well as keeping tuition low for in-state students. Fitzgerald also wrote additional revenue from the fee is placed in a general fund that goes to supporting teaching, student services and academics. 

“These tuition and fees are determined by a combination of factors, including the cost of delivering instruction, market factors and subsidization provided by state appropriations and philanthropic giving,” Fitzgerald wrote. “As a public institution, the university benefits from state support, and the university remains committed to affordability for in-state residents. This is the principle that undergirds the difference between resident and nonresident tuition.” 

Amir Fleischmann, Rackham student and GEO contract committee co-chair, is an international student from Canada. Due to his status as a Graduate Student Instructor, Fleishmann said he did not have to pay the international fee, but that its existence makes him feel unwelcome. He also said it makes him less likely to take a semester off teaching to focus on his schoolwork.

“It makes me wonder what I would do if I weren’t … teaching during the semester,” Fleishmann said. “I love teaching, but I also want to finish my dissertation, and it’s easier to do that when I’m not teaching.” 

Fleischmann said he supports the notion that the fee is discriminatory and believes the University’s justification is arbitrary.

“The University has not provided any explanation of what benefits international students receive from this fee,” Fleishmann said. “There’s really no clear reason for it, aside from a cash grab  from the University which is already pretty wealthy.”

Fitzgerald wrote that international students are not unique in having to pay additional fees and increased tuition rates. 

“Students across the university pay varying tuition and fees depending on their residency status, academic level, programs in which they are enrolled and the courses they take,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The fee puts U-M in alignment with a number of institutions that have international fees, tuition differentials for international students, or both.”  

International student fees are not uncommon at other large, public universities. Purdue University and Michigan State University charge $2,310 and $1,500 more per academic year, respectively, for international students as compared to out-of-state students.

International students at the University currently pay the same tuition rate as out-of-state students, with the exception of the fee, though they are not eligible to receive federal aid, and their travel and living expenses are estimated to be higher.

In an interview with The Daily, a member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association who agreed to the speak with the Daily on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from University administration and will be referred to in this article as “Emily”, said CSSA has been working with the University since 2019 when the fee was established to advocate for the funds generated from the fee to go specifically to the international students who pay it. 

“I think any charges incurred on a certain group of people, should be directly applied to that group of people,” Emily said. “There’s no apparent reason why we should pay for tuition, scholarships, or anything for other student bodies. We don’t have that obligation.” 

Fleishmann also said the University should be utilizing its $12.1 billion endowment to subsidize these funds that go to non-international students.

“(The University) could be drawing a greater (percentage) of cash from the endowment every year without putting the University’s financial position at risk,” Fleishmann said. “So the idea that this (burden) needs to be put on the backs of international students is absurd and discriminatory.” 

Joseph Lobodzinski, LSA senior and vice chair of the CSG Assembly, said he hopes to eventually pass a resolution calling for an investigation to investigate exactly where the revenue from the fee is used. Lobodzinski said while he thought it was important to support in-state students, he didn’t think it was appropriate for international students to have to pay an additional fee because of it. 

“I would just like to know what the University is doing with this money … that they’re putting this money to good use to get more resources for international students,” Lobodzinski said. 

Emily said after the fee was enacted in 2019, CSSA got a verbal commitment from the University administration that the fee would not be raised for a period of five years after it was enacted. With Schlissel announcing his resignation a year earlier than initially planned, Emily said CSSA worries the fees could increase under a new administration. 

“There’s also a worry that after President Schlissel (resigns) his position as president, the University will not stick to the five-year-hold…in terms of international student fees which could be a huge problem for us,” Emily said. 

University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email to The Daily that while University officials said there were no plans to increase the fee in the budgets following its 2019 implementation, the University is not aware of an officially authorized five-year commitment. Broekhuizen noted that the Board of Regents approves the price of tuition and fees on a yearly basis. 

Daily Staff Reporter George Weykamp can be reached at gweykamp@umich.edu.