The University of Michigan Board of Regents approved a number of finance property agreements, listened to an investment and endowment report and appointed Valeria Bertacco, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering, as vice provost for engaged learning on the Ann Arbor campus during a meeting in the Northbank Center Grand Ballroom on the University’s Flint campus Thursday afternoon.
University President Mark Schlissel opened the meeting by congratulating Elizabeth Anderson, professor of philosophy at the University’s Ann Arbor campus, for being named a 2019 MacArthur finalist. The MacArthur fellowship, also known as a “genius grant,” awards people of “outstanding talent” $625,000 to pursue independent projects.
Schlissel also mentioned the recent announcement that the University’s Ann Arbor campus will host a presidential debate in October 2020, saying he and other University officials will work to plan debate watch parties and other activities in the months before the debate takes place.
“This event places the University and state squarely at the center of next year’s presidential election,” Schlissel said. “It provides a tremendous opportunity for our entire community to do as we always have, which is to lead the way examining major national issues while advancing democracy in the United States.”
Schlissel told the board the University began to collect feedback from the community on their draft policy in the Standard Practice Guide relating to sexual misconduct. According to Schlissel, the external review committee that first evaluated the University recommended they create a single policy that could apply to all sectors of the University, including faculty, staff and students on all three campuses.
“Though the procedures for different groups will remain distinct, we are seeking community input on the draft policy,” Schlissel said.
Erik Lundberg, the chief investment officer at the University, then presented the latest investment and endowment report for the three campuses. Lundberg spoke about the state of the University’s investments and said while the University is ranked among the top 10 schools based on the size of its endowment, it is ranked lower in terms of endowment per student.
Nickxit Bhardwaj, Flint senior and president of the Flint campus Student Government, also addressed the board about issues facing Flint students and the ways the University should support students across the three campuses. Bhardwaj urged the board to understand the unique challenges that many Flint students must overcome in order to get an education.
“The story of a University of Michigan-Flint student is not the same as Ann Arbor, Dearborn or any other campuses,” Bhardwaj said. “On average, most of my student peers have two jobs or … are involved in different projects or organizations that impact student life on campus. On top of that, our students have multiple demands on their time or resources. Many of our students are veterans, single parents, transfer students or nontraditional students over the age of 25.”
Bhardwaj asked the board to take steps to ensure Flint students feel included in the University system and have access to resources made available by the University.
“So, the question stands: How does the University of Michigan provide for the needs of students in Flint?” Bhardwaj said. “How, as a University, do we think about the student who works two jobs, takes 18 credits, struggles with economic disadvantages and still has to go home and take care of their family? … We are a different campus, and hence we have different needs.”
The remainder of the meeting was centered around 23 finance agreements, all of which were approved by the board. A few of the agreements centered around renovations to University buildings, including a $9 million renovation to the A. Alfred Taubman Health Care Center.
The public commentators then took the stage to address the Board of Regents and Schlissel, most of them speaking on behalf of the One University Campaign, which advocates for equal funding on the University’s three campuses.
Daniel Birchok, assistant professor of anthropology at the U-M Flint, argued some of the University’s initiatives to promote equality, such as the Go Blue Guarantee, don’t actually promote equity on all three campuses.
“The public knows that you, the regents, have the resources to pursue equity for students on the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses,” Birchok said. “But when you set aside 50 million dollars to education innovation that does not include the Go Blue Guarantee for Flint and Dearborn, something that would help our students avoid crushing debt, you send a message that your interest in equity is more about image than the well-being of students.”
Birchok said though students who attend U-M Flint and Dearborn may not be as wealthy as students on the Ann Arbor campus, they deserve the same level of education and opportunities.
“Our staff, my colleagues and our community have not given up on a vision of equity that includes our students,” Birchok said. “Our students may not come from the wealth that many Ann Arbor students do, but they are of equal worth.”
LSA junior Solomon Medintz, who writes for The Daily’s opinion section, addressed the board regarding climate change during the public comment period. Medintz criticized the University for its investment in the fossil fuel industry and for arresting students for sitting in the Fleming Administration Building last March.
“You should stop trying to throw students who speak out in jail,” Medintz said. “It’s absurd that students who peacefully sat in last March asking to schedule a one-hour public meeting with President Schlissel were arrested by University police and are still in and out of court rooms today. It is a stain on this University.”
Flint senior Brooklyn Golden, president of the Black Student Union, discussed how many students at U-M Flint are first-generation students or low-income students, and she said many of them feel like the University does not value their opinions. She noted the negative reputation U-M Flint has.
“Unfortunately, many of us have the feeling that the faculty and staff and administration at this University do not hear or value what students have to say,” Golden said. “There are three universities under the University of Michigan umbrella … The University of Michigan-Flint is commonly known as the non-tuition university. The majority of our students fall under the category first-gen, commuter students, parents, transfer or low-income students.”
Golden concluded by saying that while the University says it prioritizes diversity, she and her peers often feel unwelcome on campus.
“The University makes it a point to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion on campus without seeking any course of action to exemplify change for students of color,” Golden said. “It is a shame that in 2019, students of color on this campus share experiences of prejudice and derogatory remarks and actions from faculty, staff and even peers. Many students of color, particularly African-American students, feel unwanted and out of place here at this University.”