'Teach-In' focuses on causes of increasing financialization

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History professor Dario Gaggio speaks at the 'Financialization at Michigan' teach-in event at Tisch Hall on Friday Buy this photo

By Sara Yufa, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 23, 2013

Pointing to the red felt square fastened to his shirt with a safety pin, Engineering sophomore Dave Wyman, a member of the Student Union of Michigan explained that it was an international symbol of student solidarity.

“This is how we show that we support real democracy and real accessibility on U of M’s campus,” Wyman said.

Friday, students and faculty gathered for a Teach-In and Strategy Session organized by faculty, students and the Student Union of Michigan to discuss discontent with what they see a perceived corporatization of the institution.

The first hour of the teach-in included research presentations on the University’s money flow, endowments and the Administrative Services Transformation project.

Rackham student Brian Whitner presented his findings on University finances and how they affect AST. He said the University blames the increase in tuition on a decline in state funding, however, financial reports for investors present a more complex diagram of the University’s revenue.

Whitner described four flows of money into the University that show that the increasing importance of student tuition is more complicated than pictures of declining state funding would lead the public to believe.

Whitner said one of the reasons tuition is rising so aggressively is because it’s the University’s only source of revenue that comes with “no strings attached.” He argued that tuition can go toward anything the administration desires, including higher salaries for themselves.

Revenue from tuition is placed in the University’s general fund, according to the Office of the Vice President for Communications. Tuition cannot be used to support the Athletics Department, University Housing, the University of Michigan Health System, student publications and most construction projects. The Michigan Daily, like other organizations in the Office of Student Publications, does not accept any funding from the University.

In describing the University’s expenditures, Whitener claimed that funds have been going into building construction and into administrators’ salaries, citing that administration salaries have risen 26.9 percent from 2006 to 2010.

He added that about a decade ago, the University made a decision to switch to attracting out-of-state students who pay higher tuition and started construction projects to do so.

Whitener said that the University’s rising tuition and focus on attracting out-of-state students has transformed the composition of the student body. From 2000 to 2010 students accepted who came from a family income of $200,000 per year rose by 9.2 percent at the expense of students from family incomes of $50,000 to $74,990 per year, who dropped in enrollment.

Additionally, he said there has been a “dramatic whitening of the undergraduate population at Michigan,” as the enrollment rate for students of color has also dropped.

Lila Naydan, a University lecturer and co-chair of the LEO Communications Committee, said the University should not base decisions off of “corporate values.”

“LEO stands with these staff members and will continue to work to see that all members of the university community — be they staff, students or faculty — have real say in this university's governance,” Naydan said.

Rackham student Paige Andersson discussed past donations for the University’s endowment — specifically Charles Munger’s donation for the graduate student dormitory. She claimed Munger had the idea of building graduate dorms to increase productivity by grouping together students from different disciplines.

“Anyone who knows anything about grad students knows they don’t typically choose to live in seven-bedroom dorms with people they don’t know,” Andersson said, adding that facilities such as the dorm and the proposed athletic facilities are unwanted by most of the graduate student body.

Afterward, the teach-in transitioned into a strategy session in which participants broke into groups to discuss ways to act against what they called the increasing “financialization” of the University.

Possible ideas included collaborating with other student organizations on campus, collaborating with schools going through similar issues around the nation such as the University of Texas and University of California, Berkley, staging a public relations and Twitter campaign to raise awareness of dissatisfaction, addressing the University’s Board of Regents and gaining the support of local businesses and schools in the area.

“We need to bring that transparency and democracy where students can have a voice in how the University is run and how the money is distributed,” Wyman, the Engineering sophomore, said. “We think that only then can these problems of tuition and diversity what the University’s priorities are really going to be solved.”