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Students from across all three University of Michigan campuses gathered in Ann Arbor Wednesday afternoon to rally and march for equitable funding at the UM-Dearborn and Flint campuses. Cries of “Fund our future, not your wallets” and “tri-campus power” reverberated up and down State Street as those in attendance marched, intending to raise awareness about funding disparities between the three campuses. Those attending the protest had come together to request that the Board of Regents commit to reallocating $100 million over the next 5 years from the Ann Arbor campus to a centrally endowed fund that could be split between the Flint and Dearborn campuses. 

Ramsey Fakhouri, UM-Dearborn Student Government president, expressed his passion for the advocacy work he does for equal funding. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, he told a story about when he and his vice president, Naseeha Joz, reviewed data and found disprependices in both funding per student and scholarships given between the Ann Arbor and the Flint and Dearborn campuses, despite Dearborn and Flint students having a lower median annual family income than their Ann Arbor counterparts. 

“There was a great disparity between the opportunity in funding given to an Ann Arbor student versus a Dearborn or Flint student,” Fakhouri said. “There (were) more scholarships given to Ann Arbor students and less to Dearborn and Flint students whereas the average median income for a student in Ann Arbor is far greater than a median income in Dearborn or Flint.”

At the end of May, the student governing bodies from all three campuses had worked together to craft a tri-campus resolution that would be presented to the Regents. The resolution suggests redistributing U-M funds across the three campuses in order to expand scholarship and grant programs at the regional campuses, equalize salaries for University faculty and mitigate systemic barriers.

Then, on June 3, student government representatives from the three campuses, along with individuals involved with the One University campaign (1U) and the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO), began actively planning the tri-campus “Fund our Future” rally at a virtual meeting, open to the public. Just days before, U-M Central Student Government (CSG) had unanimously voted to commit $10,000 to cover the transportation and miscellaneous other costs associated with the rally. 

Levi Todd, UM-Flint Student Government president, emphasized at the meeting that the planned rally was intended to make student support for the resolution as visible as possible for the University’s leaders, especially the Board of Regents.

“The problem is, the University of Michigan regional campuses have seen a steady decline in funding, which has negatively impacted student opportunities, as well as the broader student experience,” Todd said at the planning meeting. “After we passed … this historic tri-campus resolution, we knew we had to do something. We have to show the Board of Regents and President Schlissel that students are behind us.”

Fakhouri also cited data that the state of Michigan spends 58 cents on Flint students and 54 cents on Dearborn students for every dollar they spend on Ann Arbor students, according to original research conducted by 1U. Because of these budgetary constraints, Fakhouri said the Flint campus can no longer offer a Spanish major and the Dearborn campus has had to cut its applied music program.

“Our goal is to bring awareness and to show that students have a voice in the way that we see the funding being utilized, especially as it relates to our subsequent campus,” Fakhouri said. 

U-M regional campus student governments address their student bodies at press conferences

Prior to the rally in Ann Arbor, both UM-Flint and Dearborn student governmentsheld individual press conferences at their respective campuses. 

At the Flint press conference, recent UM-Ann Arbor alum Amytess Girgis spoke about her experience working on the 1U campaign. Girgis said when she first joined 1U in her sophomore year, she anticipated open discussions and negotiations with the Board of Regents and University President Mark Schlissel. However, while 1U and student advocates have made significant progress, Girgis said, they still have a long way to go before they receive equitable treatment from the University and the Board of Regents. 

“The administration has budgeted astonishingly little (in the past three years),” Girgis said. “(But there are) some major victories that we have won now. (For instance) the incredible advocacy of students and faculty in the past year was the first time in decades that the University broke its budgeting silence. (The University) took money from the central budget and moved ($20) million to Flint and Dearborn because it understood on some small level that a public institution like the University of Michigan has an obligation to support its satellite campuses.”  

Todd then said the University cannot genuinely hope to achieve its goals of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion if it continues to underfund the Flint and Dearborn campuses. Todd said the comparatively low graduation rate for Black students at UM-Flint is a direct result of the effects the lack of funding has had on minority students at UM-Flint. 

“(Every time) the Board of Regents continues to drag us on issues on … campus equity, the students of Flint lose an opportunity,” Todd said. “An opportunity to serve as a public health official, an opportunity to make the next breakthrough in discovery in sciences, an opportunity to speak for the oppressed, and stand against the oppressor, an opportunity to learn about another culture, thereby transforming themselves and their families and  their neighbors.” 

Todd then read aloud statements sent in by state representative John Cherry III, D-Flint, as well as former Michigan Lieutenant Gov. John Cherry. Both wrote in their statements that the University has a constitutional obligation to provide equitable funding to all three campuses, and they suggested equitable funding might even create new opportunities for citizens of the Dearborn and Flint communities. 

Only 70 miles away in Dearborn, the UM-Dearborn Student Government President Ramsey Fakhouri led a simultaneous press conference. Similar to the UM-Flint press conference, the one in Dearborn also featured speeches from a variety of current students, alumni and community members.

Maria Tarakhovsky, the UM-Dearborn Student Government speaker of the senate, alluded to the difficulty of trying to provide access to high-quality education with budget cuts constantly being made to the regional campuses. According to Tarakhovsky, UM-Dearborn’s financial concerns are exacerbated by fluctuating — trending towards decreasing — undergraduate enrollment rates at UM-Dearborn. Less incoming tuition means her regional campus has increasingly limited resources to invest in student success, Tarakhovsky said.

“The budget cuts being continually enacted upon Flint and Dearborn by the University in response to falling enrollment rates are solutions that are neither equitable nor aligned with the University’s core principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Tarakhovsky said. “The only appropriate solution that facilitates diversity, equity and inclusion is a redistribution of wealth from Ann Arbor to Flint and Dearborn.”

Hassan Ibrahim, a fellow in the UM-Dearborn Student Government, was the final speaker at the press conference before Fakhouri gave his closing remarks and those attending the Ann Arbor rally boarded buses to the flagship campus. Ibrahim noted that a substantial percentage of UM-Dearborn’s student body is first-generation students, who may need additional support adapting to university life, developing foundational academic skills and financing their education. Reallocated funds from the Ann Arbor campus could be incredibly impactful in leveling the playing field for these students, Ibrahim said.

“About 42% of students (at U-M Dearborn) are first-generation students,” Ibrahim said. “This essentially means that (for) 42% of students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, their parents have not attained a higher education. This puts them at a pretty considerable disadvantage.”

Fakhouri concluded the press conference by restating the core mission of the “Fund our Future” rally — redistribution now and a commitment to equity going forward — and emphasized to the attendees that their fight for equity would impact Wolverines for years to come.

“We at the University of Michigan-Dearborn provide common people with an uncommon education,” Fakhouri said. “(The tri-campus proposal) is going to help students, it’s going to help faculty and administration, foster better university for all, and to leave a legacy, not only for our students today, but the students to come.”

A tri-campus rendezvous in Ann Arbor  

Later in the afternoon, as students from the Dearborn and Flint campuses disembarked from the bus, they joined the Ann Arbor students waiting for them on the steps leading up to the Rackham Graduate School building and stood together as a united University.

UM-Flint senior Frankie McIntosh kicked off a set of six speeches prepared by members of the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses. McIntosh said the University and President Schlissel cannot keep promoting diversity, equity and inclusion while denying equitable funding to the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

“Our students are disproportionately low income and disproportionately students of color. We heard nice words, we heard conversations with admin, but simply it is not enough,” McIntosh said. “We need our leaders to act upon their pledge values and be bold in their advocacy for students because we cannot and we won’t sit around and wait for it to be worked out. Today is about hope, frustration and acknowledgment that we know that we deserve better.”  

McIntosh also discussed recent backlash from a survey sent out to U-M faculty in May by President Schlissel which asked about the possibility of expanding the Go Blue Guarantee to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. In the survey, President Schlissel asked faculty if they agreed that “UM-Ann Arbor should provide funding for students at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn to benefit from the Go Blue Guarantee even if it means sacrificing academic excellence or lower salary growth on the Ann Arbor campus.” The wording drew criticism from the U-M community which ultimately led to President Schlissel issuing an apology deeming the survey “unintentionally biased”  and promising not to use the results to make any decisions.

Dr. Jacob Lederman, a recently tenured professor at the UM-Flint campus, told the crowd he began supporting the fight for equitable funding across all three campuses about three years ago. Lederman said it pained him to see UM-Flint students struggling to pay tuition — due to not being eligible for the Go Blue Guarantee — while the University spent money on infrastructure projects at the Ann Arbor campus. Lederman said, unlike President Schlissel, he does not believe an institution with as large of an endowment as the University of Michigan should need to sacrifice the quality of education offered in Ann Arbor to support their regional campuses.

“Let’s be clear here, this is the wealthy institution, one of the wealthiest (in the country). We don’t need to allow either-or thinking to define us, we can have healthy salaries for workers and generous scholarships for students,” Lederman said. “We can have a world-class research institution in Ann Arbor and excellent empowering and fully funded regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn.”  

LSA senior Trent Ingell told the crowd they should use the next five minutes — his allotted speaking time — to call various members of the Board of Regents, demanding that the Regents vote to reallocate the proposed $100 million at their next meeting.

“I’m technically the speaker but for this, we’re all going to be the speaker,” Ingell said.

Before LSA senior Annie Mintun, the speaker of the U-M CSG assembly, led the passionate mix of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, alumni and community members on a march from the graduate building to the President’s house and back up State St., she introduced the three final speakers: the presidents of the UM-Ann Arbor’s, Dearborn’s and Flint’s student governments. Nithya Arun, Ramsey Fakhouri and Levi Todd addressed the crowd side by side in a display of cross-campus unity. 

Fakhouri and Todd reiterated for the entire group what they had said at their respective press conferences earlier in the day: Wednesday’s rally symbolizes the campus support for, and the clear possibility of, a more equitable future at the University. Arun then emphasized that the UM-Ann Arbor community has as much responsibility as their regional counterparts to demand tangible change. Ann Arbor students cannot consider themselves among the leaders and best, Arun said, if they turn a blind eye towards institutional injustice.

“The students who attend the Ann Arbor campus are not entitled to an unequivocal advantage in funding education and support, just as the students who attend the Flint and Dearborn campuses should not be ignored and disregarded by means of what comes after their hyphens,” Arun said. 

In an interview with The Daily, Engineering senior Joshua Sodicoff said he participated in the rally because investing in the Dearborn and Flint campuses directly aligned with his values and what he believes the University should do to support disadvantaged students. Sodicoff said it was important for UM-Ann Arbor students to attend and asked that they have empathy for their classmates at the regional campuses and support the reallocation of funds. 

“For students on the Ann Arbor campus, I am calling on you to have empathy for your peers in Flint and Dearborn who don’t have the same privileges in terms of quality of education as we have here,” Sodicoff said. “Our buildings are constantly under renovation and …. (Flint) just lost (almost) half of their lecturers. They already had less than (Ann Arbor)  to begin with. Especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential that we just care about other people and we work to make sure that we all have the resources we need to succeed.”

UM-Flint library archivist Colleen Marquis told The Daily in an interview she was attending the march because she had experienced firsthand the challenges Flint and Dearborn students and faculty deal with on a daily basis, such as having to work without certain educational resources that UM-Ann Arbor community members have access to. Marquis, who was instrumental in the librarians voting to join LEO back in February, said she hoped unionizing would help unite the faculty on all three campuses. And to her, Wednesday’s rally was a much-needed push for unity and equity.

“I’m really here because I watch the Flint faculty and students do more with less every day, and their only mistake is caring too hard and not getting supported for it,” Marquis said. 

The Board of Regents has a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday to discuss Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budgets for all three campuses. Included in their reports to consider at the meeting are student government reports from all three campuses, two of which mention the Fund our Future rally and redistribution proposal. The regents are expected to announce an expansion of the Go Blue Guarantee, a promise of free tuition to lower-income students that has existed for several years at the Ann Arbor campus, to UM-Flint and Dearborn. The planned announcement, confirmed by two sources close to the board, comes after years of activism by students on all three campuses. 

Daily Staff Reporter Kaitlyn Luckoff and Summer Editor-in-Chief Calder Lewis contributed reporting.

Summer News Editors George Weykamp, Paige Hodder, and Roni Kane can be reached at gweykamp@umich.edu, phodder@umich.edu., and ronikane@umich.edu