Coalition of faculty, students launch campaign to spread ‘U’ resources to Flint and Dearborn campuses

Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 5:33pm

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Sejal Lai

The One University Campaign, a coalition of faculty and students, launched last semester across the University of Michigan’s three campuses as an effort to equip the University’s Flint and Dearborn campuses with more resources. A key player in the campaign is sociology lecturer Ian Robinson, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization. Robinson said the campaign has ideas in the works for where these resources should go and has the numbers to back them up.

“We are in many ways one university, and in many ways not,” Robinson said. “The 1U campaign is really, fundamentally an effort to get more resources for those campuses, and we have a number of different areas in which we think they’re lacking right now and which we have ideas on what might address those inadequacies and some numbers that prove where things are now.”

As Robinson noted, the campaign has a great deal of data at its disposal. According to Robinson, 42 percent of U-M Dearborn and 39 percent of U-M Flint students qualify for the Pell Grant, a federal grant awarded to high-achieving students with financial need, yet none are covered under the Go Blue Guarantee, the University’s offer of free tuition for in-state families with incomes under $65,000, because this is offered only to Ann Arbor students. None of the $85 million Diversity, Equity and Inclusion funds go to the Dearborn and Flint campuses, despite a significant number of students of color.

The list of numbers goes on, and so do the ways these numbers manifest themselves in the daily and long-term operations of U-M Dearborn and Flint, according to members of the 1U campaign. These numbers and stories are the basis for 1U’s demands of the University.

The 1U coalition and campaign

Rackham student Corey Bowen, who works as an organizer for the Graduate Employees’ Organization, didn’t apply to the University of Michigan as a senior in high school. Hailing from a small town upstate, Ann Arbor didn’t seem like a place she could access  at the time.

“I didn't even apply to University of Michigan for undergrad,” Bowen said. “My perception was the University of Michigan is for wealthy, affluent families and not for rural communities.”

Now, as a graduate student here, Bowen is involved in 1U’s growing coalition. Her interest in this work spurred from her experience with GEO bargaining in 2017 when she said the University wouldn’t budge on equal pay for graduate student instructors across the three campuses, even when other progressive changes were made.

She sees this issue, among others 1U advocates for, as a question of the University’s values and an example of what 1U calls an “unfair silo system” budget model used by University administrators, which hurts the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

For Bowen and other 1U organizers, disparities across the University system are noticeable. 1U has specifically listed the Go Blue Guarantee’s lack of extension to Flint and Dearborn, Flint and Dearborn not receiving any of the $85 million earmarked for DEI over five years nor any of the $1 billion in funding for student support from the Victors For Michigan campaign and Flint and Dearborn lecturers being paid less than Ann Arbor, while 1U research shows workloads are 30-50 percent greater for Flint and Dearborn lecturers, as issues the campaign hopes to address.

Dan Birchok, an assistant professor of anthropology at U-M Flint is also working on 1U. He said many of his coworkers notice the issues 1U raises. There is also widespread concern, Birchok said, among faculty about the future of the Flint campus if the current level of monetary support from the University continues.

“There’s been a large cross-section of interest from across the U-M Flint campus, and that appears to only be growing as we talk more and circulate what’s going on,” Birchok said. “These are all people who are invested in the institution and who fear if we don’t solve this problem then the already dire situation there will be worse, then we won’t be able to support our students.”

The overarching goals of the campaign include addressing a budget model the group believes perpetuates inequality among the three campuses. They also seek to press the University and state of Michigan to allocate more funding and resources to the Dearborn and Flint campuses.

According to Robinson, 1U’s goals are complex and made for long-term achievement. Currently, the coalition focuses on spreading their message across the three campuses ahead of the June 2019 budget deadlines for both the University and state of Michigan.

Robinson said some of the points of the campaign are still undecided because as a large coalition, all parts of the group need to decide on priorities. He also said the coalition has begun communicating with members of the state legislature and University Board of Regents and will continue talking with decision-makers until the budget deadlines.

“A kind of fundamental shift to a vision of what we should be doing — that puts our three campuses on a more equal footing — is a long-term project, but there is a sort of immediate target, which is the budgets,” Robinson said. “Part of the reason we're building a big coalition is because it's not going to be easy, but … we're cautiously optimistic that we can make real progress.”

To do this, the coalition has held community forums and tables on all three campuses, circulated leaflets and created a listserv to build a support base. Going into winter semester, Robinson said the campaign is planning to increase its outreach efforts.

Lia Fabbri, a student on the Dearborn campus who joined 1U to address inequities she’s noticed on her campus, said one of her challenges is making 1U and its campaign points known to other U-M Dearborn students.

“I think a lot of people come to school and get their education and they go home, which is fine, but I think people need to realize — need to be shown — there are these issues we can be fighting for and that they will directly impact our education and make our experience at this University a better one,” Fabbri said. “It does sometimes feel that we're secondary, that we’re forgotten, that we’re the end of the list where resources are being allocated.”

How the discrepancies 1U claims are reflected

Studying abroad is popular on the Ann Arbor campus, with a plethora of opportunities within the University and non-University programs offered. Funding is available through the Office of Financial Aid, as well as through a variety of University scholarships. Birchok is involved with helping students go abroad through the International and Global Studies Program at U-M Flint. Birchok explained Flint students face  a number of obstacles when trying to apply to these trips and the program office doesn’t have the funds to overcome them.

“For our around 40-percent Pell Grant students, for those students to take a two-week trip overseas, for them to have to pay for their trip but then in many cases lose the opportunity cost of not being able to work during that time, some of our students have children or are responsible for children, there’s a lot of hidden costs for them,” Birchok said. “And we consistently don’t have the money that we need to provide full scholarships.”

If U-M Flint had more money, more students would be able to go and more would be incentivized to apply, Birchok said. He’s conducted studies on the topic.

“We have the interest,” Birchok said. “Students want these life-changing experiences. But financially if they can’t be assured that they can afford it, they can’t do it.”

Birchok described this problem as a “vicious cycle,” because as a pre-tenure faculty member who needs to also be thinking about getting publications and research out, there’s little incentive for him to plan a study-abroad trip that ultimately might not happen.

“For me to put together a trip with the risk that it might be canceled because I don’t have enough students, that puts a serious disincentive on me to doing that kind of work,” Birchok said. “It’s this whole vicious cycle that really strikes at the heart of what we should be about and we can’t do it because of the funding issues.”

Fabbri further emphasized this vicious cycle, noting if faculty are not supported enough financially, they will be less accessible to students.

“As students, we recognize that our education is going to be stronger and we're going to have more support from our professors if they're paid fairly, if they’re paid enough to feed their families … to put gas in their tanks, all of that, to pay their light bills, do all the things they need to do to exist safely and easily,” Fabbri said. “That’s one thing I want to make sure is communicated: When professors are supported, we’re more likely to be supported.”

The lack of student resources, Fabbri said, also prevents students in Flint and Dearborn from receiving adequate support, therefore impacting their education. Fabbri noted the absence of student legal services and health centers on the Dearborn campus. He told The Daily that with no easy access to student legal services, undocumented students have nowhere to go for legal help, and with no health center, transgender students can’t get transitional-related health care..

“When we don't get equal amounts of funding, equal amounts of resources, services, marginalized students are the ones who suffer the most,” Fabbri said. “All these things that make up a cohesive university and a safe place for students to go, where they’re getting the services and financial aid that they need just isn’t happening on Dearborn and I know it’s not happening on the Flint campus either.”

According to Fabbri, the added challenges students at Flint and Dearborn face with fewer financial aid opportunities affect how long it takes them to graduate.

“If we're not given things like the Go Blue Guarantee or given enough money for scholarships and financial aid, it takes us longer to graduate, you know,” Fabbri said. “It's harder to find classes to fit your major so you have to wait, or take it next semester, or hope it will be offered so that you can meet the requirement. It’s harder for us to get out in four years.”

At 25, Fabbri is older than the traditional college student. She started her higher education in community college, and between financial and family issues, she said it’s taking her longer to complete her degree.

“That's just me, a mid-20s person with no children and a minimum-wage job,” Fabbri said. “I can’t imagine the stressors of parents … or folks who are first-generation college students who don’t have a script of what it means to be a person in college, all these things. It takes us longer to complete our degrees because we have all these hurdles to overcome … that obviously exist for students in Ann Arbor, but in much lower levels than they do in Dearborn or Flint.”

The diverse experiences of students on the Flint and Dearborn campuses are part of those campuses strengths, Birchok said. In his classes as an anthropology professor, he facilitates discussions surrounding race and class among students of varying identities and backgrounds. Birchok said these types of conversations and classes are enlightening, but because of low funding, they’re often the first ones to drop.

“That kind of discussion, that kind of discourse should be supported,” Birchok said. “And yet the economic pressures are such that it’s precisely these kinds of classes, these kinds of opportunities that get the shaft.”

University response

While 1U members note the coalition hasn’t communicated with the University yet, they say the University has had the opportunity to respond to the individual issues in the past and, in their opinion, has failed when doing so.

Bowen cited the GEO pay disparities the University would not mitigate as one example of this. Similarly, she said when the LEO bargained last year, the University did not make lecturer salaries the same across all campuses.

According to Robinson, these disparities are not rooted in University or state rules. Instead, he sees these as a contradiction to the values of the University system and created by a budget system which does not adequately support Flint and Dearborn.

“We’ve got a budget principle that is trumping a mission principle, and the mission should trump budget norms and rules when those are just conventions,” Robinson said. “They’re not specified in the law, they’re not specified in the constitution of the University or the state, and yet they’re invoking these conventions to trump the core mission. That’s just wrong.”

The Ann Arbor campus operated on a roughly $8.4 billion budget in fiscal year 2018, according to the University funding snapshot. The general fund money is around $2 billion, which goes to teaching, student services, facilities and student support.

Bowen said in comparison to this amount of money, the 1U demands are tiny, especially in the case of paying graduate student instructors in Flint and Dearborn the same as in Ann Arbor. The cost of this, according to Bowen, would be less than $5,000 a year.

“The amount of money it would take to drastically improve conditions in Flint and Dearborn is so tiny in comparison to the budget we're working with,” Bowen said.

University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote in a statement to The Daily the University has historically supported higher state funding for all three campuses.

“The University has long advocated for increased state funding for all campuses, including Flint and Dearborn,” Broekhuizen wrote. “We each get our resources directly from the state, and from tuition paid by students on each campus. We continue to work on ways for our three campuses to collaborate with each other and enhance efficiencies to save money, while maintaining each campus’ independence and distinctive qualities.”

Birchok noted in addition to the small amount of money it would cost the University, meeting the 1U demands could help increase U-M Flint and Dearborn enrollments. He explained the Go Blue Guarantee would make attending Flint more affordable, and therefore more attractive. With more people attending Flint and Dearborn, the University is able to expand their mission, Birchok said.

“I just want to make sure we link, in many respects, doing what’s right by our students on the Flint and Dearborn campuses is also good for the institution,” Birchok said. “It’s a win-win-and-win if you add the broader mission of the institution and what we’re supposed to be about.”

Birchok said members of the Flint and Dearborn campuses see themselves as a part of the University mission and block ‘M’ brand, and would appreciate the resources to carry it out.

“We actually talk a lot about the block ‘M’ on my campus, among faculty, about what it means to us, and what it means to be a part of the broader system,” Birchok said. “It is in part branding, I mean I also think it's in part about the broader mission of the institution, and how we fit into that mission,” Birchok said. “We view ourselves as continuing that mission of the block ‘M,’ and we'd like that to be supported.”