The University of Michigan Central Student Government’s 11th Assembly convened via Zoom Tuesday evening to hear from guest speakers Regents Denise Ilitch (D) and Jordan Acker (D), who spoke to the assembly regarding the role of the Board of Regents, their vote last summer to raise tuition, plans for the fall semester and administering the COVID-19 vaccine. While Ilitch was one of the regents who voted ‘no’ twice, Acker later changed his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ for raising tuition.
LSA freshman Karthik Pasupula voiced concerns with how every student will be able to be vaccinated by the fall semester, given the struggles that some are currently having to obtain a vaccine.
“Shouldn’t the onus have been on the administration to create vaccination centers in the University, like at UHS buildings and other buildings in the University and in Ann Arbor?” Pasupula asked.
Acker said it is his understanding and the understanding of Schlissel that there is about to be a large influx of vaccine availability at the University.
“We heard from President Schlissel privately this morning that over the next two to three weeks, the supply given to University, to the UMich Hospital, to on-campus vaccines is going to start increasing dramatically, so that’s my expectation,” Acker said. “If you can’t get a vaccine where you live at home, you should be able to get one on campus. And my hope is that it will be well in advance … of the fall semester.”
Ilitch added that she believes the University will begin working with grocery chain stores Kroger and Meijer to get all students vaccinated.
“My understanding is that we will be working with Kroger and Meijer as well in order to assist our students in getting vaccines,” Ilitch said.
LSA sophomore Vincent Pinti voiced his concerns regarding how students with disabilities would be affected by the pace at which the administration intends to move to open up campus in the fall. He cited the campus opening as an accessibility issue and asked the regents how they intended to ensure that students with disabilities would be safe.
“Are we sure that we’re moving at a steady enough pace to make sure students like myself with disabilities, faculty with disabilities that are vulnerable are going to be safe, and it’’s going to be safe enough for them to return to campus as well?” Pinti asked.
Acker responded by stating his optimism about being able to get everyone vaccinated for the fall semester so that things can begin going back to normal for everyone.
“As I worry about students with disabilities and I worry about students who need accommodations, my hope is to make it as normal as possible, but the way to do that is I think through everybody getting back vaccinated, as soon as possible,” Acker said.
Acker added that he hopes that the University will require that students present proof of getting vaccinated before returning to campus, just like other colleges and universities have already started to do. He said he believes that relying on the honor system is one of the biggest mistakes that the University made regarding pre-arrival testing in residence halls at the beginning of the semester.
“My personal opinion on this is that we need to be in a position where we know exactly what we’re going into,” Acker said. “You know we flew blind a little bit — you kind of had to last fall — (but) we don’t need to this fall.”
Acker said he hopes everything will be normal enough so that in the fall, current freshmen who will be sophomores get to experience what other classes of freshmen traditionally get to experience.
“We have to give our current first year, then second-year students, those same experiences that they should have had a year ago, if not for COVID,” Acker said. “It’s one of the things that obviously is outside of (the regents) job description, but it’s the one thing that we really push administration on.”
LSA freshman Ashvin Pai spoke about his concerns regarding the late COVID-19 response from the University. He asked Ilitch and Acker if, moving forward, the regents would be willing to provide more oversight on University President Mark Schlissel and act as a check on the administration’s decisions in any situation when things are not heading in the right direction. Many students also held this concern as COVID-19 cases on campus rose throughout the fall semester.
“From my perspective as a student, it seems that over the fall semester, the regents did not exercise much oversight at all over the University,” Pai said. “And this came at great detriment to the reputation of the University.”
Both Ilitch and Acker said the board could have done better in regards to the COVID-19 response and encouraged the assembly and any other students to reach out with feedback.
“I don’t think we executed it as good as we should have or could have,” Ilitch said. “I think we struggled with the execution, and an example of that would be how we handled our quarantine housing.”
The University designated housing on North Campus to be quarantine housing for students who contract COVID-19. Throughout the fall 2020 semester, there were complaints about quality of living. Due to an overdemand of quarantine housing, the University started placing quarantined students with regular residences in North campus dorms.
Acker noted how many discussions with experts were involved in Schlissel’s decisions and said it is important to look back on what was done well as well as what was done poorly.
“We’ve hired (Schlissel) as the chief administrator of the University, (so) we have to put some trust in him,” Acker said. “… I’ve had many conversations with the president about, ‘What did we get right? What did we not? And what are we looking at in the fall to make sure those things that we didn’t get right, don’t happen again?’”
Business junior Matthew Jaysen asked the regents about the vote over the summer to increase tuition by 1.9% for the 2020-2021 academic year. Jaysen said he appreciated Ilitch sticking to her ‘no’ vote but asked Acker why he chose to change his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes.’
Acker said his decision was based on making sure in-state students whose families make under $55,000 a year did not have a tuition increase, since the tuition increase would also go towards increasing financial aid. He also wanted to make sure that the University’s Flint and Dearborn campuses would have adequate funding for initiatives such as grants for students who needed additional funds to graduate.
“If it was my choice, would I go back and not raise tuition? In retrospect, knowing what we went through the last year, probably yes,” Acker said. “But at the time, I felt, and I still continue to feel that those priorities in Dearborn and Flint were important enough that I was willing to take the vote, even if I didn’t entirely agree with it.”
Acker said at the CSG meeting that taking money out of the endowment to cover these costs would not be practical because of the long-term effects it could have down the line. Ilitch disagreed at the CSG meeting and said she thinks taking money out of the endowment should be more seriously considered, especially during unusual times such as a global pandemic.
The assembly also voted on the nominees for the nomination committee. Engineering freshman Maria Fields, LSA sophomore Noah Zimmerman and Pinti were all confirmed for the committee.
The assembly also nominated and approved LSA junior Major Stevens for the ex-officio position on the judicial appointment commission. This means he will be a non-voting Assembly observer to the judicial appointment commission and will still attend assembly meetings.
Daily Staff Reporter Martina Zacker can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: A previous version of this article included less information about the vote to increase tuition.