President Coleman, it seems that you and
the Graduate Employees Organization have something in common: You
both recognize the health care crisis in this country. Last
October, you gave a lecture telling University students that,
“(The health) care crisis is an intractable problem that has
persisted for many years. Being without health insurance often
implies a decline in quality of life.” You strongly
reiterated that, “This is a crisis — it cannot
continue,” and “we need to get this (issue) back on the
national agenda.”

Kate Green

GEO President David Dobbie told the Daily last week, “The
problem with health care is the rising costs. This national problem
needs a national solution and it could start here.”

You are both correct. As I learned in your wonderful history
department this year, 43 million Americans currently lack health
insurance. In our post-industrial, post-Fordian economy, companies
are no longer providing American workers with such vital
necessities. As our nation stands alongside the rest of the
industrialized democracies, that statistic makes us look relatively
pathetic. It is not a fit situation for the 21st century, and I
appreciate that in your words, that you agree.

But I must warn you, President Coleman, that talking about
fixing national health care isn’t enough, and you
aren’t living up to this ideal.

Firstly, this just in, you are the highest paid public
university president in the country, and in the club of
highest-paid presidents among all American campuses. Let’s
put that into perspective. Are you trying to tell me that the
president of the University is paid the same as the president of
Harvard, a $20 billion money bag and richest university in the
country? Can a considerably larger public university with far few
assets afford to pay its president like Lawrence Summers?

With a yearly salary over $475,000 with an eventual raise to
$677,500 and benefits to boot, and not to mention that prime, newly
renovated real estate on South University Avenue, your exorbitant
compensation makes it hard for one to believe that this school is
in a budget crisis.

Meanwhile, some of the hardest working and most vital employees
at this institution, the graduate student instructors, were stunned
to find that, in violation of their contract, the University wanted
to reduce their health care coverage, a vicious labor injustice you
have purported to deplore.

I’d like to know two things, President Coleman. One, how
could you say our health care crisis “can’t
continue,” and then turn around and help perpetuate it? But
more importantly, I’d like to know how you worked up the
nerve to cut health care benefits to these essential workers who
earn a net income of $10,000 a year, many of whom have small
children, while your own salary grossly exceeds the national
norm.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm symbolically cut her own salary in order
to ease Michigan’s own financial troubles, showing that if
you’re going to cut corners to fit budget constraints, you
obviously cut the biggest ones first. And, President Coleman, I do
believe that what is good enough the Michigan state government is
good enough for the University. Sure you gave $500,000 in internal
donations, but you have yet to address the systemic problems of
internal overspending.

There is no reason why you, as the University president and an
accomplished scholar, should not rake in some serious cash, but if
your salary were reduced by even 10 percent, you would still rank
wealthy among the nation’s university administrators, and
that would leave the University with much more financial
resources.

As of right now, there are 50 University employees who make more
than a quarter of a million dollars a year. If they all took even a
5 percent salary cut, that would make a remarkable dent in our
fiscal woes, and GSIs, who technically are paid poverty wages,
wouldn’t have to be thrown to the wolves of the national
health care crisis.

But, on the good side, things aren’t going as bad as
people anticipated. GEO voted “no” on a grade strike,
and settled with the University yesterday. These are positive signs
for a decent outcome for both sides.

However, the hypocrisy and disregard you have shown by even
considering cutting health coverage to GSIs — in the middle
of their contract, I might add — will give University workers
no reason to trust you when you come out sympathizing with their
economic struggles, when you haven’t addressed the excessive
compensation of those on the University’s highest executive
payroll.

Paul can be reached at
“mailto:aspaul@umich.edu”>aspaul@umich.edu.

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