In Review: ‘U’ admin raises tuition, makes calls on free speech suit and investments

Thursday, September 6, 2018 - 9:22pm

While you were away this summer, you may have missed some big stories from Ann Arbor. The Daily will be publishing recaps of the summer’s breaking news.

This past summer, the University of Michigan Board of Regents weighed decisions involving student fees, tuition rates, investment approval protocol and more. In addition, a federal judge ruled the University’s Bias Response Team was not in violation of the First Amendment. Read more about the decisions below:

University increases tuition, room and board rates

At the June Board of Regents meeting, the board, led by University President Mark Schlissel, voted to increase student tuition rates for the third year in a row. In-state tuition increased by 2.9 percent and out-of-state rose by 3.9 percent. Since 2002, tuition revenue has increased by more than 135 percent. 

Compared to last year’s rates, tuition for Michigan residents went from $14,826 to $15,262 and out-of-state student tuition went from $47,452 to $49,326.

The board voted 7-1 to approve the tuition hike. Regent Andrea Newman, R, was the only board member to oppose the hike. In the meeting, she said she voted against the motion in an effort to keep University costs affordable for students.

“I've said this before, and I feel this is the real opportunity to make this statement,” Newman said. “In the past 10 years, we’ve raised in-state tuition over 30 percent for freshmen and sophomores — an average of 3.3 percent per year — and more for juniors and seniors.”

Schlissel and the regents pointed to recent initiatives such as the Go Blue Guarantee — a full-tuition financial aid package for all in-state students whose families make less than $65,000 a year — as worthwhile affordability investments that require further funds to support. To counteract this tuition hike, this year’s budget included a 16.3 percent increase — about $28.9 million — in undergraduate financial aid funding.

This 2.9 percent tuition increase still puts the University below the state’s increase cap of 3.8 percent.

Room and board rates also increased by 3 percent — now between $296 and $400 more — as part of the vote. A statement in the University Record from the regents said the additional funds from the increase will be used to improve residence hall facilities.

“This marks the ninth consecutive year of residence hall operating cost increasing by 1 percent or less,” the statement reads. “With eight residence halls still in need of major upgrades, the overall 3 percent increase will cover essential housing services while supporting future renovations and maintenance.”

Regents may move investment decisions out of public meeting agendas

University officials are currently considering removing voting on investment decisions from the regents meeting agendas, bringing previously public investment conversations behind closed doors.

According to a statement from the University, the board would vote to establish broad guidelines for investment decisions and then allow the previously public votes to be made by the investment office staff.

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said in a press release the current protocol far more public compared to other institutions and is not necessary.

“U-M goes beyond what peer institutions consider necessary by presenting new investments to the Board of Regents in public session to be approved before the investments are executed,” Fitzgerald wrote. “A more common practice would be for the Board of Regents to annually approve the types of investments that are appropriate for U-M and what percentage of total investments are appropriate for each investment type.”

The decision came months after the Detroit Free Press published an investigation claiming the University had invested funds into the properties of large donors to the University, including Stephen Ross, Sandy Robertson and more.

After the Detroit Free Press report, student organizations such as Roosevelt Institute and College Democrats published public calls for the University to be more transparent about investment practices. LSA senior Christopher Olson, an author of a resolution from Roosevelt, requested the University publicly characterize the nature of endowment funds and future investments.

“As students we have a vested interest in how the endowment is used to promote the educational excellence of this University,” Olson wrote. “Conflicts of interest with University endowment have the potential to reduce the returns of the endowment which in turn will reduce the money which could be used to reduce the cost of tuition.”

Judge rules in favor of Bias Response Team in First Amendment case

In May, a group of students backed by an advocacy group called Speech First sued the University for infringing on their First Amendment rights with the use of the Bias Response Team. A federal judge sided with the University in early August, denying Speech First’s motion to end use of the BRT.

The BRT, housed under the Dean of Students office, responds to students’ reports of bias incidents involving race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, age and other identities.

The lawsuit was the first of its kind nationally and alleged the University’s speech code was too broad and vague to punish students. As Judge Linda V. Parker stated, however, the BRT’s investigations do not constitute a significant threat to a student accused of perpetuating bias.

“Even if the record reflected that the BRT had criticized an individual’s speech, there would be no First Amendment violation ‘in the absence of some actual or threatened imposition of governmental power or sanction,’” Parker’s ruling read.

The Department of Justice filed a statement in support of Speech First’s suit, accusing the University of censoring student speech. In response, administrators eliminated multiple portions of its speech code in an effort to “remove potential ambiguity,” as University President Mark Schlissel put it. Dictionary definitions of “bullying” and “harassment” were removed from the code.

“We’re changing the way we describe things, but we’re not changing the function of these groups,” Schlissel said in a June interview.

As students make their way back into classrooms this week, multiple departments and professors include clauses on free speech and dialogue in their syllabi.

“Now as interim dean, I plan to champion some fundamental values of a liberal arts and sciences education — citizenship, engagement, and true dialogue,” LSA interim dean Elizabeth Cole wrote in an email to students Thursday. “By dialogue I mean the ability to speak authentically about what you think and feel while also being able to hear, understand, and respect different perspectives.”

The Daily’s administration beat will be continuing coverage of these stories and more in the coming months. Keep following The Daily for further information and scoops.