Schlissel: “We are very much a confederation of three campuses.”

Monday, March 11, 2019 - 7:21pm

 University President Mark Schlissel discusses events and issues on campus with The Michigan Daily in the Fleming Administration Building Monday.

University President Mark Schlissel discusses events and issues on campus with The Michigan Daily in the Fleming Administration Building Monday. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Each month, The Michigan Daily sits down with University President Mark Schlissel to discuss events and issues on campus. During this month’s interview, Schlissel touched on topics of One University, the Carbon Neutrality Commission, the felony disclosure policy, free speech and ethical food practices.

One University

The One University Campaign was created as an effort to equip the University of Michigan’s Flint and Dearborn campuses with more resources. Schlissel said while all three University campuses share the same overarching goals, they are separate campuses under one university umbrella.

“We have distinct missions and distinct priorities, and we employ and serve distinct communities of people,” Schlissel said. “We’re very much a confederation of three campuses.”

Members of the 1U campaign have said all three campuses operate under one president and one board of regents. Representatives from the campaign — which is run by a coalition of students and faculty across the three campus — spoke at the most recent University Board of Regents meeting and has garnered the support of the Lecturer Employees’ Organization.

Specifically, 1U is asking the University and state of Michigan to dictate more funding to the U-M Dearborn and Flint campuses and claims the University inhibits these campuses through the use of a “silo system” budget model created by University administration.

Schlissel said the autonomy of each campus allows the campuses to serve their individual student populations. He noted differences in the socioeconomic and geographic diversity among the three campuses as some factors that would create different student populations and ultimately different uses of funding.

“Each campus has the flexibility to serve its student community by making its own choices and priorities and policies,” Schlissel said. “Each of the campuses makes up its own budget based on how to best serve its constituency.”

He also said each campus gets individual funding from the state of Michigan and sets its own tuition rates. He said the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses’ tuition are around 80 percent of the cost of tuition for the Ann Arbor campus.

Schlissel said there are different communities on each campus, and this is reflected in the faculty on the three campuses. He said Ann Arbor is part of a global market, while U-M Flint and Dearborn are focused on hands-on education for students from the areas they are located in.

“It wouldn’t really be either right or good for Flint or Dearborn for me to sit here in Ann Arbor and tell them how they should spend their money and who they should be serving,” Schlissel said. “I don’t think if we had three Ann Arbors, one of which was in Flint and one of which was in Dearborn, we wouldn’t be serving the people of the state the same way or as well, as if we have one global research university and two regional campuses that are much more local in their focus.”

He said he oversees the chancellors at U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn, but the campuses are ultimately different with only partially overlapping populations. Schlissel noted the University’s Ann Arbor campus is the most selective university campus in the state and the Flint and Dearborn campuses are accessible to a broad range of students within their communities.

Part of this, he said, is because the Ann Arbor campus is noticeably comprised of students who come from wealthier backgrounds, while the Dearborn and Flint campuses better reflect the diversity of the state in the student populations on those campuses. He said this was one reason for the creation of the Go Blue Guarantee on the University’s Ann Arbor campus.

“The demographics of the campuses are different, so they really are three very distinguishable campuses,” Schlissel said. “The socioeconomic diversity of Flint and Dearborn much more closely mirror the diversity of our state, whereas Ann Arbor is skewed much more to students from wealthier background. The reason we’ve begun the Go Blue Guarantee here is to try to improve the socioeconomic diversity of students here on this campus.”

1U listed the Go Blue Guarantee’s nonexistence at U-M Dearborn and Flint as one main campaign issues, though 42 percent of U-M Dearborn students and 39 percent of U-M Flint students are eligible for the Pell Grant, a federal grant awarded to high-achieving students with financial need. Schlissel said financial aid is a priority of all three campuses and a higher percentage of students receive financial aid at U-M Flint or Dearborn compared to students at the University’s Ann Arbor campus.

Schlissel also addressed 1U's complaints over the University’s Flint and Dearborn campuses not receiving any of the $85 million earmarked for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion over five years nor any of the $1 billion in funding for student support from the Victors for Michigan campaign. He said the three campuses have separate fundraising and budgets for these University services and act differently within the contexts of the campus.

According to Schlissel, leaders from each campus have the opportunity to lobby independently for more resources to be allocated to their respective campuses and plans to continue to work with those leaders to increase funding allocations for all three campuses. Additionally, he said he would like the state to increase direct-to-student financial aid, meaning a student can receive a need-based scholarship directly from the state that can be taken to whichever university the student chooses to attend.

“We’re lobbying together to try to grow the pot for each campus, keeping in mind each campus serves different communities and has different resources come to it,” Schlissel said. “I’m committed to working with Flint and Dearborn to grow their state allocation at the same time we work to grow the state allocation for Ann Arbor.”

Carbon Neutrality Commission 

Schlissel then addressed questions concerning student, faculty and corporate involvement in his new Commission on Carbon Neutrality. At the beginning of February, Schlissel officially announced the charge and members of his new Commission on Carbon Neutrality. The commission will  define a goal and clarify the parameters for the University to achieve carbon neutrality, looking to achieve and surpass the University’s 2011 goal of a 25 percent carbon emission reduction from the 2006 standard by 2025.

Noting the presence and direct involvement of students on the commission, Schlissel said the shared motivation between students and other commission members will be beneficial for the productivity of the board.

“We share the same goal,” Schlissel said. “The goal is to figure out as quickly as possible how to put us on a pathway to becoming carbon neutral in a way that's sustainable, that allows us to continue our mission and continue to be an attractive place to come and study and to learn and to do research, and to do it in a way that serves as an example and in collaboration with the city around us, the county, the state, and to do it as a permanent rather than a short term fix.”

The committee, composed of University students and faculty members, also includes two members from major energy corporations. According to Schlissel, the members were meticulously chosen for their input.

“I quite purposefully asked those two major energy companies to suggest someone they thought would be helpful, and the reason why is they provide the overwhelming amount of energy throughout our state and region and to say we don’t want to hear their thoughts and learn their plans because of their emissions of greenhouse gas,” Schlissel said. “They're not going away, they are the major suppliers of electricity for the University, the city of Ann Arbor, et cetera, so ignoring them because of past behavior, I don't think that serves any purpose.”

Schlissel also noted that the two corporations, DTE and Consumers Energy, have personal incentive to improve their sustainability practices.

“Each of those companies recognizes that they are as adversely affected by global climate change as the University is,” Schlissel said. “Their business may go out of business because of it and they’re incentivized how they are going to shift from non-renewables and high carbon to low carbon sources of energy. One of them, DTE, their CEO told me our trajectory to get to 80 percent carbon free in their renewables in their portfolio over the coming decade so I would like to understand how they’re going to do this at the scale of the state of Michigan in a place where it gets to be minus 30-degree wind chill factors in the winter, so I wanted their expertise.

He also noted that because the individuals from the energy industry only make up a small portion of commission, he is not too concerned about their opinions being too domineering.

“The two industry folks are two members of a 16-person commission advisory so I'm not incredibly worried about the thoughtful students and the faculty and the campus leaders being overwhelmed by two people of industry.”

According to Schlissel, the commission’s first town hall will be a good opportunity for pressing student issues and concerns to be recognized.

“I'd love to understand which questions are front-of-mind for students,” Schlissel said. “In the flipside, I’d love the students to see the thoughtfulness and seriousness with which the members of the commission are taking this really important task.”

Felony Self-Disclosure Policy 

The University has implemented a new policy this February requiring members of the community to disclose all charges and convictions of felonies within a week of the charge or conviction. The policy applies to all faculty and staff, including student employees, volunteers and visiting scholars. According to the policy, those who do not disclose felonies will potentially face serious consequences, possibly including dismissal.

While University officials have said the policy was intended to ensure campus safety, some have raised concerns with the policy. Those against the policy say it infringes on rights, unfairly targets minorities, adds to invasive hiring procedures and lacked community input.

According to Schlissel, the creation of the policy is motivated by student and faculty safety, however there is a challenge to ensure the process is conducted in a fair way.

“The core of the policy change is to make sure we can provide a safe environment on our campus, in our health system, in all the different things we do as possible,” Schlissel said. “I think the advocates are very correct to be concerned about the disproportionate impact of the legal system on different subpopulations in our country. I think the evidence that that happens is incredibly strong. What we have to balance is being fair to every individual employee or applicant one person at a time, with the responsibility to keeping our community safe.”

Though he agreed it is a challenge to maintain fairness in the process, Schlissel said disclosing felony charges or convictions is important to ensure specific people are not a risk to certain positions on campus.

“Let's say we have somebody working in the Treasurer’s Office of the University that had been convicted or charged elsewhere with embezzlement, with stealing money, and they do the same thing here and we never asked (about the charge or conviction),” Schlissel said. “It’s not an unreasonable thing for an employer to know whether a particular job a person is doing poses a particular risk based on them having been charged or convicted of a serious crime — not a trivial crime, but a serious crime. The challenge, in a way, is how to do that in a way that isn’t unfair to people.”

While the policy requires all faculty to report these felony charges or convictions, Schlissel said the findings are not always applicable, depending on the job the individual has.

“Just because you’ve been convicted of a serious crime doesn’t mean you should never work — you have to be able to support yourself,” Schlissel said. “So the idea is to do this as a confidential process where the leadership and our campus-wide human resources group looks at these self-reports and says, ‘Well, this person was arrested or convicted or a crime that has nothing to do with their job, they’re not a risk, we’re going to keep that information confidential, the supervisors are not going to know about it,’ and that person will go about their business.”

Schlissel also stressed the importance of keeping track of the demographics of those impacted by the policy.

“It’s a balancing act,” Schlissel said. “What we’re going to have to do prospectively is look at how the demographics works out in this program. If we were to get 100 reports a year out of our 40,000 employees of someone being convicted of a felony, we want to make sure the peoples whose jobs are being moved or changed or lost aren’t disproportionately in one identifiable group or another.”

Free Speech

Schlissel then moved on to discuss free speech and the upcoming visit from conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro. This is not the first time the University has dealt with issues regarding the First Amendment, as seen with last year’s potential visit from Richard Spencer and a lawsuit from Speech First.

Shapiro’s visit, which will occur on Tuesday evening, will be hosted by the University’s chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom. While Shapiro has been accused of using transphobic, homophobic and anti-choice rhetoric, free tickets reserved for students sold out in less than two minutes of being released.

Schlissel explained it was important for the University to allow student groups to invite the speakers they want on campus, even if the individual may have offensive rhetoric.

“To be a University we have to be open to ideas, even ones that many of us may find offensive,” Schlissel said. “I don’t have to go listen to the talk, but similarly we can’t set up a way to tell a student group who they’re allowed to or who they’re not allowed to invite. Once you give away that right, someone will decide they don’t want to hear about your issue because it’s too difficult.”

He also explained the University remains neutral with issues regarding free speech because deciding what qualifies as “offensive” can be challenging.

“Who would you trust to make the call about what’s offensive?” Schlissel said. “No one has figured out how to do that. So, you really have to be content-neutral. Just because someone speaks here at the University, in no way means the University as an entity is endorsing what they have to say.”

However, more than issues of the First Amendment, Schlissel emphasized his responsibility is to protect students’ rights to choose whom to listen to and whom to invite on campus.

“Some people say we’re protecting the First Amendment,” Schlissel said. “The First Amendment, I’m not responsible for that. I’m responsible for you. So what I’m really protecting is your right to decide who you’d like to invite and come give a talk, or your choice about who you want to listen to. Who you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to, I think we should be cautious about that.”

Ethical Food Practices

Lastly, Schlissel discussed ethical food practices on campus, which comes after public comments from the last Board of Regents meeting, as well as conversation in Central Student Government and Ann Arbor City Council, about the presence of fast food chain Wendy’s at the University. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, student organizers and community members were concerned about the chain’s presence on campus because of its refusal to join the Fair Food Program.

While Schlissel noted that Wendy’s decided not to pursue a request to come back to the Michigan Union when it reopens, he acknowledged the importance of discussions regarding ethical food practices on campus. He explained how, a few years back, the University made an effort to look at where athletic apparel — anything with a Block ‘M’ — came from, and considered the possibility of a similar process for food on campus.

“Students have proposed that we consider a similar approach to the sourcing of other things the University buys, and that’s a reason issue to look at and explore, and the same committee (President’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights) has been tasked at looking at this issue … and to do an analysis,” Schlissel said.