If you think tuition costs are out of control, it’s true — they are out of your control. When the University Board of Regents passed a 5-percent hike in tuition in July, it stuck with its tradition of raising tuition when no one’s looking. In response to student concerns, Provost Teresa Sullivan announced her latest project: the Student Budget Advisory Committee. Some are optimistic about its promise to involve students in the budgetary process. But it’s hard to see how the closed-door meetings of a hand-selected committee will promote an open dialogue about tuition, let alone influence change.
Forming a committee is the University’s favorite show of good faith on contentious campus issues. During her tenure as the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Texas, Sullivan often solicited student input. Her first two years at the University of Michigan have been no different, giving her a reputation for facilitating dialogue through committee formation, as she did with the Provost’s Student Leadership Board and the Student Advisory Committee. But when faced with an urgent need to slow tuition hikes, it’s important for us to know just what kind of appeasement the administration is offering.
Sullivan says that the committee will seat a dozen students, graduate and undergraduate, “who would have an intellectual interest in the budget.” But considering that tuition has risen 34.6 percent during the past four years, why involve only students with “an intellectual interest” in the budget rather than those who care the most or, perhaps more importantly, those who are suffering the most? Rising costs are taking a toll on students and their families, especially in this time of economic instability, and these consequences deserve real attention.
Perhaps most telling is the selection process Sullivan’s office employed to choose student committee members. Rather than publicize the committee openings to the entire campus, the Office of the Provost contacted only student organizations, student government and the Provost’s Faculty Budget Advisory committee for nominations in September. Many students didn’t even know about the opportunity until they read about it in the Daily — on the day nominations were due. Rather than filtering out all but a few voices, every concerned student should be heard when it comes to tuition.
Unfortunately, students shouldn’t take solace in being able to at least observe the meetings — because they can’t. While the University claims to want students to understand the budgetary process and generate feedback, these meetings will be closed. And don’t expect to review any minutes of the meetings either: According to the Office of the Provost, there won’t be any.
When reached for comment, the Office of the Provost said Sullivan is “not adverse to scheduling an open meeting at some point.” If this comes to pass — and it should — students should demonstrate their need for attention and attend. Right now, that is the best chance the average student has for getting a say on this matter.
So far, there is little to make us feel like the administration actually cares about “increasing student participation” in this process. But when it comes down to it, what students want most from this committee is for their concerns to matter when the University considers next year’s tuition rates. To find out if it fulfills even that basic expectation, though, it looks like we’ll have to wait until next summer.