Advocating for parity between U-M’s Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses
By Kiran Hoeffner-shah and Grace Jensen
Nicole Bonomini did not even consider applying to the University of Michigan Ann Arbor; she knew the cost of tuition would be prohibitive. Instead, following a friend’s recommendation, she applied to the Dearborn campus, and has found it a great fit.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised— every course I’ve taken has been with professors with PhDs,” Bonomini said. “[Since it is a] satellite campus, people think, ‘it’s not really U-M,’ but I’ve loved my courses. I’m impressed with how responsive the faculty members have been.”
The University of Michigan is one of the top-ranked universities in the U.S., both in terms of the strength of its academic programs and the wealth of resources available to its students. But a stigma surrounds the satellite campuses in Dearborn and Flint.
Distribution of resources across the University’s three campuses is uneven— students and faculty at U-M Flint and Dearborn receive lower pay and less funding than what is provided at the Ann Arbor campus. To bridge these disparities, the One University Campaign (The 1U Campaign), a coalition of professors, lecturers, graduate and undergraduate students, was created to advocate for U-M to function as a single university, providing equal treatment and resources to students and faculty members at each campus.
Outside of support from the state, funding between the three U-M campuses is independent, meaning that each campus is responsible for self-funding and for the allocation of funds. While U-M Ann Arbor consistently runs budget surpluses, U-M Dearborn and Flint receive less funding per student from donations, research grants, and out-of-state tuition. The Ann Arbor campus also receives more than twice the state funding per student as Dearborn and Flint. This allows U-M Ann Arbor to invest in more services such as student medical and legal clinics and study abroad scholarships, while U-M Flint and Dearborn need to allocate their limited funds toward essentials.
Additionally, the U-M Ann Arbor is the only campus included in the Go Blue Guarantee, which according to its website aims to make “a world-class education affordable and accessible” by providing full tuition to any student whose family makes less than $65,000 in annual income and has less than $50,000 in assets. U-M President Dr. Mark Schlissel has stated in forums that the actual purpose is to increase socioeconomic diversity, which is lacking on the Ann Arbor campus, but not at Flint or Dearborn.
The 1U Campaign argues that expecting self-funding to be an effective means of maintaining the Flint and Dearborn campuses is not realistic for tuition-dependent institutions in which the majority of students are from in-state. Tuition for in-state students is $14,402, and $45,410 for out-of-state students. It also advocates for extending the Go Blue Guarantee to those campuses, which they estimate would cost about $30 million, and would help students from struggling families attend college.
Disparate Lecturer Salaries and Workloads
Funding for students is not the only discrepancy between the campuses. There is a large disparity between student teaching assistants and professors at the Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses. Graduate students, who teach courses and grade assignments as part of their scholarship packages, receive less financial assistance on the Flint campus than on the Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses, despite having a heavier workload.
Stephanie Gelderloos, a lecturer at UM-Flint who worked with the lecturers’ union on negotiating their new contract last year, expressed concern that “the course load is 33 percent more” while at Dearborn and Flint professors earn significantly less. “Higher pay for lecturers would reduce the need for them to work outside of the university, which many people now have to do.”
The Issue of Diversity
These issues are particularly noteworthy because U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn are more racially diverse than the Ann Arbor campus. Despite Michigan’s 13 percent African American population, only four percent of U-M Ann Arbor students are African American. Black students are nearly nine percent of those enrolled at U-M Dearborn, and 12.7 percent at U-M Flint campus.
Daniel Birchok, a professor of anthropology at UM-Flint, says that his classrooms “look like the state of Michigan [both] racially and socioeconomically.” His students often face other responsibilities, like working or taking care of their families, and says that those responsibilities often create a “cascading effect” that causes students to take on more debt. To this point, Birchok asks: “If [diversity and inclusion] are our core values, then why isn’t money also being put toward the campuses where most of our diversity lies?”
Despite the fact that the Flint and Dearborn campuses have more diverse student bodies, U-M has spent no money on diversity and inclusion initiatives there, according to the campaign, while at the U-M Ann Arbor campus, the University has spent $85 million on diversity initiatives.
“I love the University of Michigan Flint,” Gelderloos said. “We do amazing things up there for some amazing people in a wonderful community. But some of [my students] struggle so much outside of the classroom that they struggle in the classroom or with getting to school. So not only do I have more students or more teaching load, I have students who have more and more issues.”
The 1U Campaign’s Proposal
The changes that the 1U Campaign hopes to see are not just reliant on U-M’s leadership. The Michigan State Legislature also approves state funding to each campus and can change the funding requirements with minimum effect to state funding to other universities. By making slight changes to the baseline funding of each campus, the state legislature could create more parity in funding between the campuses.
Since much of the Ann Arbor funding comes from other sources, a reduction in the campus’ state funding would spell major changes for Flint and Dearborn. The 1U Campaign estimates that a 10.6 percent reduction of state funding at the Ann Arbor campus would decrease the campus’s general fund by only 1.6 percent while allowing the general fund for the Flint and Dearborn campuses to increase by 71.2 percent and 65.9 percent, respectively. Since these campuses have a smaller student body, this relatively small change for U-M Ann Arbor would result in more equal funding for Flint and Dearborn’s full-time students.
“Community support [for the initiative] has been growing on all three campuses since the formation of the campaign coalition,” said U-M Ann Arbor professor Ian Robinson. “Since [we published our demands], support has been steadily growing. If we carry the campaign into the next academic year, as seems likely, I expect this support to continue to build as we inform other community members about how things really work.”
The central administration has noticed the campaign gaining traction. In an email, U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald defended the University’s budgeting system, explaining that “each campus has the flexibility to serve its student community by making its own choices, policies and priorities— including budget priorities. That means that each campus has the primary
responsibility for developing its own budget, as well as setting its own priorities for diversity, equity and inclusion that fit its needs.” Campaign advocates say that when faced with funding shortages, the Dearborn and Flint campuses do not really have the option for such expenditures.
The 1U Campaign is targeting three key players: U-M administration (including the President, the three campus Provosts, and the Flint and Dearborn Chancellors); the Board of Regents, which approves the school budget; and the state legislature, which approves state funding. According to Robinson, administration officials have been unmoving in their position. The Board of Regents has met with coalition members, but it is unclear whether a majority will agree to delay the monthly budget to pressure the administration into meeting the campaign’s demands. The movement has also garnered interest from Democratic legislators in Lansing. State Sen. Curtis Hertel and State Rep. Jon Hoadley even penned an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press signed by 12 members of the state legislature pressuring U-M to commit to the cause. However, the campaign will need Republican backing as well to enact any changes in state funding. The state budget will be finalized soon (after our print deadline), which will determine the three campus’ funding for the next fiscal year.
The Bottom Line:
Is it really “One University”?
Disparities in reputation, funding, scholarships, salaries, and workloads mean that the students in need are not receiving the same treatment, leading many to question whether or not the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses are all equally a part of the University of Michigan. Advocates claim the 1U Campaign is gaining support to change this and level the playing field for all U-M students. Those with the power to make changes are paying attention, but the Campaign’s demands have yet to be met.