Courtesy of Caroline Wang

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.

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discussed the election of a new chair and vice chair, as well as the cancellation of student debt at their meeting Monday afternoon.

Allen Liu, professor of mechanical engineering and SACUA chair, said that the SACUA chair and vice chair election will be held on April 11. SACUA members will declare their intention to run for these positions on April 4. 

Kentaro Toyama, professor of information and a member of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, discussed the Faculty Senate Resolution on Canceling Student Debt. This resolution is led by a non-profit called Scholars for a New Deal for Higher Education, a group of teachers and scholars calling for higher education as a public good.

“This group is asking faculty senates around the country, especially public universities, to issue a resolution that asks for the federal government to cancel the debt,” Toyama said. 

Student debt in the United States totals to around 1.7 trillion dollars, and 92% is owed to the Department of Education. In December 2021, President Joe Biden delayed the payment schedule of student loans until May 1, 2022, the second time the debt was delayed since the pandemic. 

The resolution text states that canceling student debt has many positive outcomes related to the wellness of students.

“Student debt exacerbates class, race, and gender inequalities,” the resolution reads. “It reduces students’ access to  education, and hinders them from taking jobs of their choice in the fields in which they were trained. It burdens our faculty and staff, who also carry student debt into their offices and  classrooms. And most importantly, it’s unnecessary, as there are clear opportunities now for canceling that debt and reforming higher education finance to prevent students from incurring further debt.”

Engineering professor Michael Atzmon said there are many factors SACUA needs to consider before voting on this resolution. 

“To me, this seems like a solution that’s a little bit simplistic and vague,” Atzmon said. “What does cancel debt mean? Does it also mean the federal government will pay private banks that lent money? Is it fair to those that are more cautious and don’t take loans?”

Caitlin Finlayson, Senate Assembly vice chair, said that based on her experience with her students, many students who are in debt face financial burdens for the rest of their lives and their children’s lives. However, she also added that this specific resolution doesn’t provide a long-term solution to the actual problem that causes debt in the first place. 

“(The resolution) doesn’t provide a long term answer to the predatory lending practices and the escalating cost of universities, which is the core of this issue,” Finlayson said. 

Education professor Donald Freeman said that he knew colleagues who could speak on the issue of student debt before the vote on the resolution. Liu agreed that SACUA should delay the vote until they have a better understanding of the problem. 

The resolution was tabled for a later date.

SACUA also met with Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman during the executive session, which was not open to the media. The faculty governing body also heard from Bill Schultz and Ella Kazerooni, co-chairs of the Rules, Practices and Policies Committee, during the executive session.

Daily Staff Reporter Caroline Wang can be reached at wangca@umich.edu.