Regents split on increasing tuition, voting 4-4 on new budget proposal

Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 6:53pm

Regents and Administration wear masks on zoom call as a symbolic gesture of personal responsibility in confronting the pandemic

Regents and Administration wear masks on zoom call as a symbolic gesture of personal responsibility in confronting the pandemic Buy this photo
Courtesy of Arjun Thakkar

The Board of Regents failed to approve a budget for the University during the 2020-2021 academic year on Thursday, dividing evenly over the issue of proposed tuition increases across all three campuses and additional funding for the Flint and Dearborn campuses. 

The board voted 4-4 for the proposed budget, with Regents Ron Weiser (R), Michael Behm (D), Mark Bernstein (D), and Katherine White (D) supporting the proposal and Regents Denise Ilitch (D), Shauna Ryder Diggs (D), Paul Brown (D) and Jordan Acker (D) voting in opposition. University President Mark Schlissel indicated the executive team will have to bring back a new budget at the July Regents meeting, but until then, the University does not officially have a budget. 

All Regents and executive officers were present during the fourth meeting of the year, though Regent White only called in temporarily to vote on the consolidated budget as she is serving with the military. The meeting was hosted via Zoom and was live streamed on the University’s website and YouTube.

Schlissel introduced several components of the operating budget, arguing the proposal prioritizes the health and safety of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the affordability and quality of instruction. In anticipation of further financial losses due to the economic downturn, the budget proposed a 1.9 percent increase for in-state and out-of-state tuition on the Ann Arbor campus. Housing and dining fees would have also increased 1.9 percent under the proposed budget with an additional $50 COVID fee to enhance preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19.

Schlissel said the tuition increase would help provide an additional $12.8 million increase in financial aid so most students receiving need-based aid would have no increase in their tuition costs for the 2020-2021 academic year. The proposed budget would have continued to offer the Go Blue Guarantee to students on the Ann Arbor campus with a family income of under $65,000. 

The proposed budget factored in a 1.9 percent and 4.2 percent increase in tuition for “undergraduates and nonresident students” respectively at the Dearborn campus and a 3.9 percent tuition increase for students at the Flint campus. Schlissel additionally announced the creation of a $10 million fund to be shared between the two satellite campuses to support student success initiatives.

The Board allowed three students to provide public comment in opposition to tuition increases on the proposed budget before the final vote occurred. 

Public Policy graduate student Marianna Smith explained a tuition increase would be inconsistent with the decline in the quality of the academic environment and opportunities that she observed in the Spring term and anticipated for the hybrid online and in-person Fall term. Smith argued any fees that pay for services students cannot take advantage of amid the public health crisis, including University facilities, should be reduced or erased. 

“How can we expect students to pay the same amount for a subpar education for factors outside of their control?” Smith said. “What will you do when the public health crisis forces us to return to 100 percent remote classes? How can you justify full price for a service you’re not delivering on?”

The Regents who opposed the budget argued the University should not raise the cost of attendance while much uncertainty remains about how and if students will be able to complete the upcoming term. Ilitch voiced her opposition to the budget, asserting the proposed tuition increase will place a financial burden on families across the state and country confronting the effects of the ongoing recession. She suggested the University had other means to maintain the current cost of tuition, including the use of funds from U-M’s $12 billion endowment.

“Raising tuition 1.9 percent is simply tone-deaf, particularly when there is a diminution in value,” Ilitch said. “This proposed tuition increase is inconsistent with the pandemic mantra of ‘we are all in this together’... The University of Michigan is a wealthy institution and can well afford to maintain the status quo in tuition costs during this pandemic.” 

Bernstein, who supported the budget, said the proposed tuition increase would allow the University to continue providing financial aid to the 70 percent of Ann Arbor students who receive financial aid. 

“I just believe fundamentally that those who can pay more should pay more so that those who can’t pay more don’t have to pay more,” Bernstein said. “We absolutely have a responsibility to be responsible, to be disciplined, to be deliberate and to be thoughtful about how we spend money, but I fundamentally believe that to not raise tuition — in a very modest way — at this moment deprives the University of the resources to spend the money in desperately needed financial aid for the students who need it.”

Schlissel echoed Bernstein’s comments before the final vote to emphasize the budget was created with the understanding that some families have been disproportionately affected by the recession.

“The people that we’re calling upon to pay an extra $400 or so or $300 actually aren’t the ones who are being affected by this awful economy,” Schlissel said.

Several other Michigan colleges have committed to freeze tuition increases for the 2020-2021 school year. Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University, and Oakland University all concluded in the late spring they would not raise tuition for their students in the upcoming year. 

The Board additionally adopted a resolution presented by Regent Bernstein, essentially codifying policies that dictate how the University will interact with unions. The resolution states the University will recognize the formal right of employees to bargain collectively while remaining neutral on the issue of union representation. Administrators have had extensive negotiations with employees in the past, so this resolution clarifies how the University and bargaining units should conduct their discussions.

Regent Acker, who seconded the motion to approve the resolution, said the measure would improve the University’s relationship with organized labor.

“One of the things that I think makes our state, makes our University great is we have this forward thinking tradition of labor relations,” Acker said. “This is something that goes back decades, and I think the codification of Regent Bernstein’s motion here will only make that stronger...I expect that these will not only help us have better labor management relations, but also serve as a model for other institutions on how we can have those relations moving forward.”

Schlissel addressed the national movement for racial justice at the beginning of the meeting, calling for a brief moment of silence to honor the victims of racial violence in the United States.

“Black Lives Matter,” Schlissel said. “I applaud all those who are demonstrating against injustice and working to create a better world. This especially includes the members of our community, past and present, and the many units of the University of Michigan that have stepped forward to confront the society and institutions that have devalued, dehumanized and perpetuated violence against African-Americans for centuries...We all have a responsibility to advance justice, equality, peace and understanding to challenge, and ultimately, end the evil of racism and to ensure that our University lives up to the aspirations to make our world better for all.”

Schlissel commented on the recent announcement of the University’s plans to offer in-person classes for the upcoming term. He noted the Flint and Dearborn campuses have tailored their plans to suit their own needs. 

“The thoughtful and deliberate efforts of hundreds of members of the U of M community have given me confidence that we can (return to campus) safely while upholding the excellence of a Michigan education,” Schlissel said. “We will continue to plan and prepare in the months ahead.”

Schlissel also voiced appreciation for the two recent United States Supreme Court rulings defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and LGBTQ individuals under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He also condemned the executive order President Donald Trump signed suspending new foreign work visas and preventing foreign employees from entering the United States. 

“Such patterns of exclusion are antithetical to our view that we are strengthened as a University, a nation and an economy when top minds from all parts of the world choose to work and study with us,” Schlissel said.

The Regents nominated the next chair and vice chair of the Board who will begin serving in their roles starting next month. Regent Weiser nominated Regent Ilitch to serve as Chair and Regent Acker to serve as Vice Chair.

Public Comments

12 speakers addressed the board about equitable funding for the Dearborn and Flint campuses, climate action and concerns about reopening campus in the fall during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Hassan Jaber, President and CEO of ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the largest nonprofit Arab American human services agency in the United States, said the administration should limit cuts to faculty and staff at the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

“It may be necessary to use 1 billion dollars of University of Michigan endowment to offset the Ann Arbor losses,” Jaber said. “In comparison, investing $20 to $30 million in Dearborn and Flint to reverse cuts in classes, faculty, and staff and to enact the (One University) recommendations is an extremely small amount to take from the endowment at this time of crisis. This investment is an opportunity to grow Dearborn and Flint and to ensure long-term financial stability for the two campuses and, frankly, to live up to the reputation of ‘Leaders and Best.’”

PhD student Natalie Warsinger-Pepe asked the Uuniversity to support graduate student workers who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and will be at a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 in an in-person semester.

“The University’'s decision to host in-person classes in the fall creates a health risk to these graduate workers and the broader community,” Warsinger-Pepe said. “My colleagues are already putting themselves at risk by continuing laboratory research and the addition of teaching in the fall increases their risk of exposure and increases the risk of unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Given the health risk of in person teaching, graduate workers must be consulted in drawing up fall teaching plans and must be given the option to teach remotely.”

Daily Staff Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at arjunt@umich.edu and Daily Staff Reporter Alexandra Greenberg can be reached at aggreenb@umich.edu