State legislators publish op-ed addressing disparities across the University’s three campuses

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 8:28pm

.

Max Kuang/Daily

This article has been updated to include comments from State Senator Jeff Irwin and State Representative Rebekah Warren. 

On Wednesday morning, state Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., D-Lansing, and state Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, published an opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press titled “University of Michigan students in Flint and Dearborn are shortchanged. That has to stop.” Signed by a dozen state legislators, the article discusses disparities in funding and resources across the University of Michigan’s three campuses.

“As members of the Michigan State Legislature, we are incredibly proud that our state is home to the University of Michigan,” Hertel and Hoadley wrote. “But we were elected to stand up for all Michiganders — and today, we call on the Leaders and Best to do better.”

The op-ed comes one day before the One University Campaign plans to “pack” the final Board of Regents meeting to “demand equitable funding for (the) UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn campuses.” Formed in the fall of 2018, the One University Campaign is a coalition of students, faculty, staff and community members aiming to promote equitable distribution of funding and resources between the University’s three campuses. The campaign also hopes to ensure long-term support for the Flint and Dearborn campuses from University President Mark Schlissel, the Board of Regents and the state legislature.

In a statement provided to The Daily, One University spokesman Austin Ogle confirmed the op-ed was written in coordination with the 1U campaign.

“We are proud to have the support of such a large body of legislators who care deeply about the future of higher education in Michigan,” Ogle wrote. “The funding situation on the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses is urgent — the University of Michigan must take action and increase support to these communities. Our lawmakers, students and faculty all agree: it’s time for the Leaders and the Best to treat all three campuses as One University, with gold-standard education and support available to all students.”

State Sen. Jeff Irwin and State Reps. Yousef Rabhi and Rebekah Warren — all Democrats representing the Ann Arbor area — all signed the op-ed in support of rectifying disparities across the University’s three campuses.

In an interview with the Daily, Irwin said he knows experiences at the Ann Arbor campus versus the Dearborn and Flint campuses are significantly different through conversations with faculty and staff at these campuses and his own experiences as a student at Ann Arbor. Irwin also expressed University funding could make a big difference at U-M Dearborn and Flint, in particular mentioning the lack of health services on these campuses.

“The University of Michigan is such a leader in so many different areas, such a massively successful institution that has such a large budget and such great fundraising,” Irwin said. “It has the ability to spend a tiny amount of that and revolutionize the opportunities on the campuses at Flint and Dearborn.”

Irwin said his role in the state legislature is to push for more funding for all the state’s higher education institutions, especially in support of financial aid programs.

In an interview with the Daily, Warren also said legislators have a role in securing funding for the state's higher education institutions.

“Legislators representing different parts of the U-M family… thought it was an important time to make a statement really to make sure every part of the Michigan family is funded and has access to the same type of services and support,” Warren said. “And to me, that starts with us… A line in the op-ed I added was that we as legislators get the opportunity on an annual basis to decide how much money our higher ed institutions receive… It’s about affirming our commitment to make sure we have enough funding for all parts of the University of Michigan family and the other universities through our state.”

In particular, Warren said the University and the state legislature "have work to do" in supporting students from lower income families.

Rabhi's office did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the article, the University’s Dearborn and Flint campuses face “extreme” budget shortages, despite the University’s decade-long cash surplus and almost $12 billion endowment. Using data from the U.S. Department of Education, the article explained students at the Dearborn and Flint campuses receive 23 percent and 25 percent respectively in per-student funding compared to students at the Ann Arbor campus, despite paying 80 percent of the tuition Ann Arbor students pay.

“This means that their students receive about a quarter of the resources that Ann Arbor provides to its students for instructional support, financial aid, health services, and more,” Hertel and Hoadley wrote.

The article also discussed the heavier burden of student debt for students at the Dearborn and Flint campuses. The average student loan debt is about equal for Ann Arbor and Dearborn students and about $8,000 higher for Flint students. The article notes the median family income of Ann Arbor students is almost double the median family income of Dearborn and Flint students.

In addition, the article critiqued the scope of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative and the Go Blue Guarantee, a financial aid program which covers the full cost of in-state tuition for students from families making under $65,000 a year, but these only exist on the Ann Arbor campus.

“We have always been proud of the University of Michigan’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Hertel and Hoadley wrote. “But the reality is that the Dearborn and Flint communities consist of disproportionately high numbers of low-income students and students of color … In failing to support them, the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion rings hollow.”

Furthermore, the article mentioned the Flint and Dearborn campuses lack on-campus medical services, which are available in Ann Arbor. Previous reporting by The Daily has found the absence of legal and health centers on the Flint and Dearborn campuses disproportionately harm marginalized students, such as undocumented and transgender students, who need these services the most.

In an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald emphasized the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses are “three distinct but aligned institutions.”

“Each campus has its own unique mission and priorities—and makes decisions to meet individual campus needs,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Those needs reflect the students they serve, the work they do, the people they hire, the markets in which they operate and so forth.”

According to Fitzgerald, the Ann Arbor campus conducts more research for the public good than any other public university in the country and must compete with national and international research universities for students and faculty. On the other hand, Fitzgerald said the Dearborn and Flint campuses are regional institutions serving a mostly in-state student population, competing with peer regional institutions in Michigan and across the country.

Fitzgerald cited several initiatives to promote affordability for students at the Dearborn and Flint campuses, such as the Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign at all three campuses which includes the Kochoff Pathway to Success Scholarship Program specifically for Dearborn students. In addition, Fitzgerald mentioned the recent expansion of the Flint Promise scholarship to include the U-M Flint campus, which helps cover up to 100 percent of a student’s tuition, books and fees and allows graduating students in the city of Flint to attend Flint directly out of high school.

In response to other issues raised by state legislators in the op-ed, Fitzgerald directed The Daily to previous interviews with President Mark Schlissel in March and April.

The article claimed the University could better fund the Dearborn and Flint campuses with little difficulty.

“The good news is that the university need not scramble to find the funds to support these life-changing initiatives,” Hertel and Hoadley wrote. “An increased annual investment of just a few million dollars to these campuses — a tiny fraction of the university’s budget — would allow these communities to benefit greatly from increased institutional investment and opportunities to succeed. Our entire state would improve as a result.”

To close the article, Hertel and Hoadley called on the University to resolve inequities across the three campuses for the betterment of the state.

“But the need at the U-M Dearborn and Flint campuses is urgent, and we call on the University of Michigan to serve the students who strive to make Michigan home to the Leaders and Best every day,” they wrote. “The disparities on these campuses can be rectified, and Michigan will be a stronger state once they are. We look forward to working with the University of Michigan to make this a reality.”