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The night of January 15, 2022 was not one to forget for students at the University of Michigan. That evening, over 100 students gathered outside the house of former U-M President Mark Schlissel just hours after news broke that he had been fired for an “inappropriate relationship” with an employee. This was the beginning of what would be months of an outpouring of hope and anticipation from students, faculty and staff alike for the future of the University.
Among those expressing hope were members of the One University campaign, an organization that lobbies for equitable funding across all three of the University’s campuses: Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor. Throughout Schlissel’s tenure, One University expressed criticism of his actions, including in May 2021, when Schlissel portrayed the expansion of the Go Blue Guarantee to Dearborn and Flint campuses as both a financial and academic burden to the Ann Arbor campus. Upon Schlissel’s firing, One University released a statement reiterating its discontent, as well as hope that the Board of Regents would select a president who would carry out “more democratic and transparent governance on all levels across our three campuses.”
After the Presidential Search Committee conducted a nationwide search of potential candidates beginning in February, the Board of Regents named current University of British Columbia President Dr. Santa Ono as Schlissel’s successor on July 13. With Ono taking office on October 13, students and faculty on the Dearborn and Flint campuses spoke with The Michigan Daily about their hopes and expectations for the new era of the University.
Ono told The Daily in an exclusive interview that he believes in order for other campuses to feel as if the administration is invested in them, there has to be an effort from the administration to be present on those campuses. He claimed that he was going to spend time on both the Flint and Dearborn campuses, and that he would support their “great” leaders.
Reflecting on the relationship between Schlissel and the Flint and Dearborn campuses, Jacob Lederman, associate professor of sociology on the Flint campus and active member of the One University campaign, said he believes Schlissel’s relationship with the Flint and Dearborn campuses was always distant.
“Unfortunately, Schlissel just never really took a big interest in the Flint or Dearborn campuses,” Lederman said.
According to Lederman, Schlissel didn’t understand that Flint and Dearborn campuses serve different communities and have different goals than the Ann Arbor campus.
“I think amongst the faculty on our campuses, particularly in Flint, there is a sense that we have a very different mission than, for example, Ann Arbor, and we embrace that mission,” Lederman said. “I don’t think Schlissel could ever understand what we meant by investment and equity if it didn’t mean becoming like Ann Arbor.”
The U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn campuses have historically served a disproportionately large portion of marginalized students in the state of Michigan. However, the two satellite campuses have traditionally received less financial aid resources compared to the U-M Ann Arbor campus.
In addition, the U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn student bodies differ greatly from U-M Ann Arbor in terms of socioeconomic status. Based on the 2021 campus data snapshot, 40% of U-M Dearborn students and 52% of U-M Flint students received Pell Grants — a federal grant awarded to high-achieving students with financial need — whereas 17% of U-M Ann Arbor students received the same grant.
Lederman expressed his support for Ono and said he believes Ono has a mindset that would be welcome on the U-M Flint campus.
“I think President Ono appears to be someone who wants to get to know people and understand their perspectives,” Lederman said. “I think that will go a long way on Flint’s campus.”
Lederman said he hopes Ono will apply this mindset when considering the three campuses of the University and their unique needs.
“I think I’d like to see President Ono embrace us,” Lederman said. “Not because we should or need to move closer or appear closer to the Ann Arbor campus, but precisely because our mission is so different and so important.”
Shbeib Dabaja, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences at U-M Flint, said a lack of funding on U-M Flint’s campus results in a lesser campus life experience.
“On campus, it was a struggle to keep students involved, and I think a lot of it stems from campus equity and equitable investment,” Dabaja said.
According to Dabaja, this sense of campus life is crucial to maintaining the Flint campus in the long-term.
“Campus life is crucial to the longevity of the University of Michigan-Flint, and I think that starts with funding,” Dabaja said. “That increase(s) (the) conversation of ‘How can we make campus life similar to what it is in Ann Arbor?’ or ‘How can we bring Flint into the fold of things?’”
Dabaja said these conversations are his main hopes for Ono’s presidency.
“Really, that’s the crux of everything,” Dabaja said. “To be able to work on these issues. To not only understand that there’s an issue, but to find common ground on how to solve the issue.”
Dabaja said one issue he believes should be addressed is the GPA requirement for the Go Blue Guarantee that only exists for the U-M Dearborn and U-M Flint campuses. The Go Blue Guarantee — a free-tuition scholarship for in-state students whose family income is less than $65,000 — was officially extended to U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn in 2021. This expansion came with a minimum 3.5 GPA requirement for U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn students to qualify, a minimum that does not exist for students on the Ann Arbor campus.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily in a previous article that the GPA requirement did not apply to the Ann Arbor campus because essentially all students at the Ann Arbor campus already have an incoming GPA of a 3.5 or higher. According to data collected from first-year students on the U-M Ann Arbor campus in 2021, the median high school GPA was 3.9. Fitzgerald also stated that the GPA requirement was to ensure consistency across campuses.
Wasey Rehman, a junior in the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters on the U-M Dearborn campus, also reiterated the importance of addressing the disparity in GPA requirements between U-M Ann Arbor and the two satellite campuses.
“What are they trying to imply by that?” Rehman said.
Lederman said he hopes that this GPA requirement will be one of the things that Ono addresses during his tenure as University president.
“I would like to see President Ono immediately extend the Go Blue Guarantee without the GPA requirement,” Lederman said. “I think that would go a long way towards helping our students, to providing Flint and Dearborn with an incredible point to make in marketing the University and its programs, and be a kind of beacon for students in our region and make the University much more accessible to them.”
With Ono entering his new role in just over a month, students and faculty at the U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn campuses express optimism and hope for the new era.
“I want to see his presence more on (our) campus,” Rehman said. “We have our chancellor, and we hold Chancellor Grasso very very close to us, and we take pride in him. I want to take pride in Santa Ono.”
Daily News Reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at email@example.com.