Op-ed: The Leaders and the Best can do better than this

Monday, April 15, 2019 - 1:01pm

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It was with great disappointment that we read University President Mark Schlissel’s interview with The Michigan Daily, published on March 11 under the headline “Schlissel: ‘We are very much a confederation of three campuses.’” In his comments, Schlissel defended the University of Michigan’s failure to sustainably and equitably fund our Dearborn and Flint campuses. Unfortunately, he did not address the concerns of many students, faculty, non-instructional staff and community members whose very livelihoods are at stake.

It’s impossible to overstate the severity of the funding gap between the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses. Despite the fact that Dearborn and Flint students pay about 80 percent of the tuition that Ann Arbor students pay, their per-student funding is drastically lower than that — 23 percent and 25 percent, according to our research. This means that their students receive about one quarter of the resources that Ann Arbor provides to its students for instructional support, financial aid, health services and more. Rates of student debt are similarly staggering.

As a percentage of average family income, Flint students take on almost 3 times as much debt as Ann Arbor students, and Dearborn students take on twice as much. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative and Go Blue Guarantee that this University rightfully champions exist only on the Ann Arbor campus.

These disparities persist while the University sits on a massive surplus of funds. Every year since 2007, the University, according to data we've compiled, has had a surplus of more than $182 million  – which is more than the entire General Funds of Flint or Dearborn.

Schlissel has the power and funding to rectify these disparities. However, in his interview, he stated that addressing these inequities is impossible due to worries over campus autonomy and the different characters of each campus. We appreciate his considerations for preserving the unique missions of the Dearborn and Flint campuses. But without increased funding, those missions cannot be met effectively. We see no contradiction between respecting the autonomy of the three campuses and equitably funding each.

We, the One University Coalition comprised of members from the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campus communities, are offering to sit down with Schlissel to discuss our needs, the platform we have proposed to address them and how we might achieve them while respecting the autonomy of each campus. Striving for equity in Dearborn and Flint will increase opportunities for Michigan’s residents and allow the University of Michigan to emerge as a national leader in enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education. By reallocating a relatively small portion of the Ann Arbor campus budget — or simply using a small part of the University’s multi-billion-dollar endowment — Schlissel and the Board of Regents have the opportunity to drastically transform the lives of students and faculty on the Dearborn and Flint campuses. Instead, the University is choosing to forgo that opportunity and silo the budgets of these campuses entirely.

The University of Michigan cannot truly create an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion if it fails to support the Flint and Dearborn campuses it calls home. Like Schlissel, we believe that this university is home to the Leaders and the Best — and Leaders and the Best can do better than this.

On behalf of the One University Campaign Steering Committee,

-Ian Robinson, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (AFT-Michigan Local 6244)

-Daniel Birchok, assistant professor of anthropology, U-M Flint

-Austin Ogle, undergraduate student, U-M Flint

-Jordan Yunker, undergraduate student, U-M Dearborn

Ian, Daniel, Austin and Jordan are members of The One University Coalition — a group of faculty, students and non-instructional staff from all three campuses campaigning for equitable funding and resource allocation across the University’s campuses. Its full list of demands for the University and State Legislature can be found here.