Courtesy of Nadir Al-Saidi.  Buy this photo.

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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) met virtually on Monday to discuss their concerns regarding a controversial survey that was recently sent out to University of Michigan faculty. In one of the questions, University President Mark Schlissel asked surveyees if they believe the University should expand the Go Blue Guarantee (GBG) — the promise of free tuition to in-state students from low-income families —  to the UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint campuses by redistributing funding across the three campuses. More specifically, Schlissel asked faculty if they believed it was OK to do so, “even if it means sacrificing academic excellence or lower salary growth on the Ann Arbor campus,” sparking outrage from some faculty and community members.

SACUA had previously discussed the potential expansion of the GBG at its Jan. 11 session, approving a resolution in support of it which was sent to Schlissel following the meeting. The One University Campaign has also repeatedly asked the University to address financial inequities amongst the three campuses, ultimately demanding the adoption of the GBG at the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

SACUA Chair Allen Liu began the meeting by briefing the committee on a phone conversation he had with Schlissel about the survey prior to Monday’s meeting. Liu told SACUA Schlissel had apologized for how the statement was phrased, though Liu said Schlissel remained concerned with the financial implications associated with expanding the GBG. 

“Effectively (Schlissel) was saying (expanding the GBG) was a bad investment,” Liu said. “‘Where would the money come from?’ Schlissel literally just asked that. Salary is the single biggest expenditure on campus. And he even went as far as saying, ‘Where is the revenue coming from? It’s from student tuition.’”

In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said Schlissel and University leadership are committed to ensuring a high quality of education is provided to every student attending any of the three U-M campuses. Fitzgerald mentioned that in June 2020, Schlissel committed an additional $20 million to the two satellite campuses which would be allocated over three years. These funds were allocated only after the initial Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget was voted down by the Board of Regents because of concerns over raised tuition.

“The decisions on how best to use that additional funding lie in the hands of the Flint and Dearborn chancellors and their leadership teams, and President Schlissel has great respect for those local decisions,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald also said Schlissel has apologized for his “unintentionally biased” phrasing, and noted the University will not be using the data gathered from the survey.

“Regarding the survey questions, President Schlissel has communicated to SACUA leaders that he regrets the wording of the questions and has apologized for the way in which the issue was stated,” Fitzgerald wrote. “He has assured SACUA that, while he cannot pull back the survey, he will not use the data because of the unintentional bias in the question.”

SACUA members discussed the possibility of releasing a statement emphasizing their disapproval of Schlissel’s diction in the statement. Liu then opened up the meeting for committee members to share their opinions on the survey and how SACUA should proceed.

LSA Professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe said she believes the apology Schlissel gave to SACUA through his conversation with Liu did not sufficiently address the situation. Ahbel-Rappe said Schlissel was only apologizing for the words used in a question, rather than affirming his commitment to equity across all three campuses.

“To apologize for the wording (of the survey) does not in any way mitigate the intention of the statement, which is to say that (Schlissel) is not in support of remedying the situation that … minority students in our regional campuses have: they are underfunded,” Ahbel-Rappe said. “And as a result, yes, they drop out. What we want to know (from Schlissel) is … are you really for equity and inclusion?”

The graduation rates across the three campuses, as Abhel-Rappe alluded to, are starkly different. UM-Ann Arbor has an 80% 4-year graduation rate, compared with 22% at UM-Dearborn and 16% at UM-Flint. 

J. Caitlin Finlayson, an associate professor of English Literature at UM-Dearborn, said she agreed with Ahbel-Rappe that the statistical disparities in completion rates are alarming and that expanding the GBG might help close these gaps. Additionally, Finlayson emphasized that as satellite campuses, many students at UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint face a myriad of unique challenges in their day-to-day lives and college careers that financial aid programs can sometimes help mitigate.

“Yes, we (UM-Dearborn) have issues with completion rates, if you look at it just statistically, against the Ann Arbor campus,” Finlayson said. “But our students are also struggling against different issues … We need to do better at supporting the regional campuses and the students who are there. Otherwise, we are just endlessly supporting privilege.”

Daily Staff Reporter Nadir Al-Saidi can be reached at alsaidin@umich.edu