On June 29, when the University of Michigan Board of Regents approved the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget 5-2 in a special meeting, University President Mark Schlissel announced the Flint and Dearborn campuses would receive a shared $20 million fund to be used to promote academic success. Schlissel said Flint and Dearborn Chancellors Debasish Dutta and Domenico Grasso would be responsible for determining where these funds should be directed.
“This new $20 million investment will be devoted to programs that enhance recruitment, retention and graduation,” Schlissel said. “I appreciate the many voices who have advocated for greater investments to promote increased enrollment and greater student success at our regional campuses. I'll be working closely with the chancellors to determine how best to target this funding, since they know their campuses the best.”
While the amount was doubled after the board voted down the proposed budget at the June 25 meeting, members of the One University Campaign, a faculty and student-led group that advocates for equitable funding on the University’s three campuses, said they are concerned the funds won’t be used to improve students’ experiences and will instead be directed to address financial losses at the regional campuses. In June, U-M Flint laid off 41 percent of its lecturers due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget also instituted a 3.9 percent tuition increase at the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
LSA senior Amytess Girgis, member of One University, said she is somewhat optimistic the funds will be used for students, but she worries the economic shortfall will drive administrators to use the investment to offset losses.
“I’m nervous that this funding, rather than encouraging the chancellors to invest in the future of these campuses and ensure future growth, will instead merely be used to justify further austerity and retreat these campuses into survival mode, which we do not believe would be conducive to student success or the financial success of these institutions,” Girgis said.
Girgis and several other members of One University, seeking to indicate the need for investment at the regional campuses, published a report in May titled “Leaders and Best Without Exception: Measures to Effectively Fulfill the University of Michigan’s Role as a Public Institution on its Flint and Dearborn Campuses.” The document serves the primary purpose of quantifying the proposals One University argues would improve enrollment as well as students’ financial circumstances, academic performances and graduation and retention rates.
The proposal calls for an additional $18.4 million per year to be directed towards Flint and Dearborn in order to increase financial support and improve enrollment and academic performances. The campaign claims in the report that these funds could provide the two campuses with the Go Blue Guarantee, which offers free tuition to Michigan families with an income of less than $65,000, as well as with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives to expand enrollment of underrepresented students, greater study abroad opportunities, and health and legal services.
The report also establishes how the campaign’s vision for the satellite campuses aligns with the administration’s goals and why the proposed policies would successfully address the needs of the two campuses. U-M Dearborn senior and president of One University Dearborn Amanda Saleh addressed how administrators have claimed the campaign’s proposals do not align with the University’s objectives.
“The (reasons) that (the) University administration have made in regards to not supporting the proposals have been intellectually dishonest, to say the least,” Saleh wrote. “Our recommendations not only align with the core mission of Flint and Dearborn, but they work to fulfill the mission of both campuses.”
In an email to The Daily in June, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald referred to a webpage from University Public Affairs addressing the administration’s mission for the three campuses. The site also responds to several of One University’s proposals, primarily arguing the recommendations do not support the satellite campuses as they are very distinct from Ann Arbor.
Tyrice Denson, U-M Flint alum and organizer for One University, explained that the campaign began drafting the report after they were urged by the Regents in a February meeting to present concrete proposals that would inform their decision-making process. He said members researched the costs of programs offered at Ann Arbor and estimated how expensive it would be to apply them at Flint and Dearborn.
The report estimates bringing the Go Blue Guarantee to the regional campuses, which has been one of One University’s greatest priorities, would cost approximately $10.8 million for the Dearborn campus and $3.3 million for Flint, totalling $14.1 million.
Denson said this estimate surprised him as previous estimates for the Go Blue Guarantee were much higher. He also noted Ohio State University has already expanded a similar free tuition program to its regional campuses, arguing the University should be able to do the same.
“It’s important for us to continue challenging the administration,” Denson said. “We are one of the wealthiest institutions in the country, we are one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, and that’s a big responsibility to live up to. And right now, U of M is not doing it.”
According to Girgis, the Regents initially indicated the One University proposal would be useful for designing the budget, but when they received the report and met with the campaign, they were more hesitant to support additional expenses since the University had already incurred financial losses in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“(The Regents) felt that now is not the time to be making major investments in these campuses, but rather just do what they can to keep the campuses afloat,” Girgis said. “And that was incredibly frustrating because the driving argument in the proposal is that these programs, first of all, are long overdue, and second of all, would actually increase enrollment and retention on these campuses, and make these campuses far more fiscally responsible and stable in the future. So now more than ever was the time to do them, especially as more and more students will be in need of financial aid and other support.”
Girgis reiterated the campaign’s goal to encourage both the Flint and Dearborn Chancellors to use the funds allocated in the budget in order to implement their recommendations.
“Obviously, the proposal, and a lot of our efforts in general, convinced them to create that $20 million plan for the morning spent in the budget,” Girgis said. “But they did not earmark any of those funds for any of the specific programming we asked, but rather (deferred) to the chancellors to decide how they wanted to spend those funds. For the next few months, we're going to be advocating more and more for the specific policies that we feel are important.”
Daily Staff Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org