Community members comment on tri-campus funding disparities, medical practices, ethical food practices at Regents meeting
At the fourth University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting of the 2018-19 school year, 10 speakers addressed the board during the public comments portion. The speakers — who included students, faculty and community members — discussed non-agenda related items, including the One University coalition, ethical food purchasing and claims of inadequate care at Michigan Medicine.
Regent Ron Weiser (R) thanked all speakers at the meeting for discussing issues impacting the University.
“I wanted, on behalf of the board, to thank all the speakers for taking their time to come here and share their views,” Weiser said. “These are complex issues, and it’s helpful for us to hear your thoughts.”
The One University campaign is a coalition of students, faculty and community members committed to bolstering resources on the Flint and Dearborn campuses. LSA senior Griffin St. Onge emphasized the University’s duty as a public university and the importance of creating equity among the three U-M campuses.
“Through my time organizing around affordability issues on the Ann Arbor campus, I have seen how many Michigan opportunities are still more difficult for low-income students and students of color to access,” St. Onge said. “As Ann Arbor students are increasingly likely to come from extreme wealth, I have learned how the University's desire to provide an uncommon education for the common man has been complicated. This is why I, and other Ann Arbor students, support the 1U campaign.”
St. Onge said many Ann Arbor students struggle with affordability, meaning the struggle of Flint and Dearborn students is linked to that of students on the Ann Arbor campus. She also highlighted funding disparities among the campuses — the University runs on a budget surplus and Flint and Dearborn students graduate with more debt on average than students in Ann Arbor.
Additionally, St. Onge spoke against the new University felony self-disclosure policy. The policy requires staff to report all charges and convictions of felonies within a week and has prompted discussion and an open letter calling for the policy to be rescinded.
St. Onge said the policy limits the opportunities of students and faculty and reduces access to certain viewpoints and experiences. She also said this directly contradicts diversity, equity and inclusion at the University.
LSA sophomore Mani Samei attended the meeting in support of UMich Behind Bars — a student group advocating against the self-disclosure policy — and One University. He said it is important students make their voices heard and presence felt.
“This policy is just one more example of the University making the active decision to extend the prison system into the educational system and I think as students it’s important we show up to these things,” Samei said. “Students are taking notice and are noticing the regents are making these decisions, and it really has no place at the University.”
Arifa Javed, a sociology lecturer at U-M Dearborn, said she’s given a third of her life to the University and thanked the regents for the salary increase for lecturers. However, Javed said some policies hurt her and other lecturers, and the University needs a change in the relationship between the three campuses.
She specifically noted policies that inhibit her ability to receive health care, and shared personal experiences that she says show how the University does not properly support her campus. Javed also said majors in her department have decreased, decreasing students’ opportunities.
“With my 20 years of experience at Dearborn, I come before you asking for a profound but necessary change we need in the relationship of our three campuses,” Javed said. “Since we are under one president and one Board of Regents, I would request you to take my recommendations and help out the students, faculty and staff on all three campuses.”
Jono Sturt, lecturer of architecture in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, said it is hard to live paycheck to paycheck and advocated for equal treatment for lecturers on all three campuses. He said the contract has positively impacted his life, his teaching and his students’ experience.
Sturt thanked the regents for the recent contract, which he said allows him to set aside money for the future for the first time. However, he says there needs to be a larger conversation about lecturer treatment and the funding inequalities across the campuses.
“We understand this needs to be the beginning of a much longer conversation,” Sturt said. “The University of Michigan is a public institution and as such, should serve the public of this state, not just those here in Ann Arbor. Our University’s faculty and learners at Flint and Dearborn deserve the same support I am so grateful to enjoy here on this campus.”
Kimberly Daley, a University staff member and alum, was one of four speakers who spoke about the University’s food decisions. Daley, who works with the Washtenaw Solidarity with Farmworkers organization, highlighted the University’s history of supporting fair worker policy and ethical purchasing policies, but said the University should continue to make ethical food choices going forward.
Daley urged the University to join the Fair Food Program, a partnership ensuring humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms. She specifically noted the Wendy’s debate as a situation of having a choice between advocating for fair worker treatment or not. She said WSF will continue to advocate for these issues.
“Our campus community has a history of supporting labor investments,” Daley said. “The University of Michigan also has a long commitment to ethical purchasing commitments … Expanding this work to the food system is critically important because with each new corporation that joins the Fair Food Program, the farms they purchase from join this effort that has been proven time and time again to eliminate abuses.”
WSF member Matthew Hoostal, Medical School research fellow, shared a report that said the University does not make ethical food decisions. Hoostal said the University should interact with the food industry the same way it interacts with the garment industry, which requires it to avoid purchasing from companies that practice unethical treatment of workers.
WSF member Shane McParland added on to Hoostal's statements and asked the University to adopt the Fair Food Program policies. McParland also mentioned the recent Ann Arbor City Council resolution to ban Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants not supportive of the Fair Food Program and said the University should look at different businesses’ policies when deciding which have space in the Michigan Union.
“The Fair Food Program is worker driven, relies on workplace-specific codes of conduct, worker education, complaint mechanisms, comprehensive audits and market consequences for violators,” McParland said. “Vendors’ endorsement of labor justice should be weighed heavily.”
McParland also said WSF asked University President Mark Schlissel for a policy favoring transparency and endorsing the Fair Food Program on campus in October 2018. He said a month later Schlissel responded saying he would share their concerns with the president’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights. When WSF met with the committee chair that month, McParland said they were told nothing could be done without the president’s mandate and more research is needed.
Rackham student Madeline Cooke shared similar concerns to Hoostal’s and McParland’s. She asked University leaders for a response and policy in support of fair treatment for food workers and to join Central Student Government and City Council in endorsing the Fair Food Program.
“It is clear that students and community members care deeply about farmworker labor justice and, as a community, we want the University to take action,” Cooke said. “As the largest employer in the state of Michigan, what this institution does impacts the community.”
Westland resident Allie Parker spoke about practices at Michigan Medicine that she claims hurt her child. Allie Parker said this could have been avoided if the University held physicians accountable and that she is not the first parent to raise these concerns.
Allie Parker said the University Child Protection Team of doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital accused her and her husband, James Parker, of child abuse. The Parkers were then brought to court over this alleged child abuse, with the judge ultimately dismissing the case. Allie Parker claims this legal process unnecessarily stalled the treatment of her child and believes this resulted in a miscarriage.
“We had a very ethical, honest and unbiased judge, but unfortunately all was the opposite when it came to the physician who was responsible for examining our son at the University of Michigan,” Allie Parker said. “Nothing will make up for the time lost with our children, nothing will bring back my ability to nurse my son.”
Allie Parker recalled the psychological, emotional and financial stress the situation inflicted on her family.
“I am not the first mother to stand before this board in tears,” Allie Parker said. “I am not the first mother telling you the horror story that was my life for seven and a half months. This is something that I will live with for the rest of my life — knowing all that was lost because one person uses her credentials and position to ruin families.”
Allie Parker also claimed the doctor, who is a an associate professor at Michigan Medicine, had tests showing the child’s condition was not caused by abuse.
James Parker said the doctor and their team misdiagnose children and use "flawed" data to make medical conclusions. James Parker asked the regents to think about how many families need to be torn apart because a doctor cannot differentiate between abuse and legitimate medical issues.
James Parker bolstered Allie Parker’s point that while the doctor had evidence there was no child abuse, the doctor still testified under oath saying child abuse did occur. James said he and his wife were placed in the same category as perpetrators who sexually abuse their children because of the doctor’s written report. James questioned how the situation could change from their child being likely to die in the family’s care to a judge apologizing and dismissing the case.
“The only children in harm’s way are the children brought to U of M Mott for treatment by concerned parents and caretakers,” James Parker said. “Where is the accountability for the continued misdiagnosis of this physician and her team?”
James Parker also said pediatricians are held to a lower ethical standard than other medical professionals, which allows mistreatment and falsely accusing families of abuse to continue.
Ann Arbor resident Matt Eckman spoke as a representative of Torn Family Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public on false allegations of child abuse. Eckman said his organization has highlighted false accusations made by the Mott’s Child Protection Team doctors and shared examples of this happening.
“It would appear that no explanation a parent can give is sufficient at Mott Children’s Hospital,” Eckman said. “Physical child abuse is a very real problem in the U.S., but children are also abused when they are pulled away from their family for months, for years by overzealous, so-called child abuse doctors that seem to find abuse in every situation.”
A previous version of this article stated the Parker child's death was associated with the legal processes, and it has since been updated to reflect the child did not die and that a miscarriage was possibly caused. The Parkers reside in Westland, not Ann Arbor, which has also been corrected within the article, as has the last name of Matt Eckman.