UM activists lobby for equity on Dearborn, Flint campuses

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
University of Michigan-Flint undergrad Austin Ogle said medical and legal services that are available to UM-Ann arbor students are lacking at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn.

Dearborn — A growing movement at the University of Michigan is urging  officials to provide more services and funding to the school's Dearborn and Flint campuses, calling it a moral imperative. 

The coalition, known as One University, has been lobbying UM officials for months for greater funding, along with health, legal and other programs that are on the Ann Arbor campus but not a part of the Flint and Dearborn campuses. 

The group ramped up its campaign for changes Thursday with a news conference and comments from several speakers addressing the UM Board of Regents on the university's Dearborn campus, where the board held its regular meeting. 

"UM-Flint and Dearborn students pay about 80% of Ann Arbor students' tuition, but receive 25% of per-student funding," Amytess Girgis, a UM-Ann Arbor student, told the regents. "They do not have the Go Blue Guarantee on their campus. They do not have access to on-campus medical services. They do not have the support of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. And, due to constant departmental cuts, they do not have the same breadth in course offerings as I do.

"When I was being recruited as a Stamps Scholar, I was told that the Leaders and Best look out for one another," Girgis continued. "But I know I can speak for countless Ann Arbor students who are noticing the gap between the university's words and actions."

"UM-Flint and Dearborn students pay about 80 percent of Ann Arbor students' tuition, but receive 25 percent of per-student funding," said Amytess Girgis, a UM-Ann Arbor student, during the public comment portion of the meeting.

During the meeting, the incoming student body president at UM-Dearborn, Sarah Nassar, touched on the issue and the incoming student body president of UM-Ann Arbor, Benjamin Gerstein, addressed it directly.

Coalition members also passed out an open letter signed by 250 members of the three UM campuses in support of the One University's goals.

"At close to $12 billion, the University of Michigan's endowment is among the largest of any public institutions," said the letter. "The endowment made estimated returns of 13.8 percent in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Recently, President (Mark) Schlissel announced that the university has broken records by raising another $5 billion through its successful Victors for Michigan campaign. Our campuses could benefit immediately from comparatively small investments."

Besides Girgis, four other supporters also addressed the UM board.

"As regents, you are in a position to help our campus and our students who face severe hurdles to attend and remain in college," said Deb Roundtree, a lecturer at UM-Dearborn. "Many are low-income or first generation. Many are students of color. Many must work part-time or full-time jobs. Our students need greater resources to help them thrive.

"Our lecturers, who do the majority of teaching at Dearborn, need a professional wage so they can better dedicate their time and energy to providing the services our students need to reach their goals," Roundtree added.

Regents Mark Bernstein and Paul Brown thanked the coalition members as they spoke about their concerns.

Bernstein said he has spent time on the three campuses to learn more about the disparities.

"Our UM campuses are indeed different," he said. "But we have the same obligation, the same responsibilities, the same opportunities and the same mission at each, mainly to create and sustain an environment that enables all of students to succeed on all our campuses."

He added: "I think we have to be all-in here, in Dearborn and Flint," drawing applause from the standing-room-only crowd.

Brown added later: "We can do more and therefore we must do more."

Earlier, during the press conference, Austin Ogle, a student at UM-Flint, said a number of infrastructure issues on that campus especially affect students with disabilities. Among them: door-opening buttons that don't work, frequent elevator malfunctions and broken escalators the university removed without replacing.

Ogle also said medical and legal services available to UM-Ann Arbor students are lacking at UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn.

"These services by far could do way more good in Flint and Dearborn," Ogle said. "They are way more needed in Flint and Dearborn than they are than in Ann Arbor ... (the services) could be provided at little to no cost, it's just a shame they are not provided to the students who need them the most."

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed was among the speakers at the press conference, saying he thought it was important for the university to address students' concerns.

"I am calling on UM regents of this university to do the right thing, to stand up for equitable funding across these campuses, to recognize that Flint and Dearborn are part of the University of Michigan, they deserve the same opportunities that are afforded at the Ann Arbor campus, and to be honest that we can do better," El-Sayed said. 

While UM officials agree that the state needs to allocate more funding to UM- Dearborn and Flint, Girgis said there are many other issues.

She said UM-Dearborn and Flint students take on almost two and three times as much debt in proportion to their family incomes, respectively, as do Ann Arbor students. 

Girgis also said students in Dearborn and Flint typically come from families with much lower incomes and do not get the same services as those in Ann Arbor.

UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint also lack the Go Blue Guarantee, a program guaranteeing free tuition to students at the Ann Arbor campus with family incomes of $65,000 or less. 

"Over the last few years, the University of Michigan has put forth a strong campaign forward for diversity, equity and inclusion," said Girgis, 19-year-old sophomore from Grand Rapids. "They started a program (three) years ago, dumped $85 million into the Ann Arbor campus. The fact of the matter is the Dearborn and Flint campus communities are disproportionately low-income students, disproportionately students of color. 

"For the university to want diversity, to want to champion diversity, equity and inclusion without equitably supporting these two campuses, which it also calls home, is really a travesty."

During the press conference, Girgis said that the coalition has met with most of the regents, and nearly all are supportive.

But she said Schlissel has not met with them but has addressed the issue twice with the Michigan Daily, the UM student newspaper, and "dodged the issue of equity."

"Instead (he) addressed the fact he feels the three campuses serve different missions," Girgis said. "He hasn't supported our demands that we feel there is a need to increase funding on these campuses. Instead he dodged the question and ... (said) because they serve different missions don't need as much funding." 

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the Michigan Legislature needs to provide more state funding for the Dearborn and Flint campuses.

"If we want our state to be among the most prosperous in the nation, we have to be among the most educated," said Fitzgerald, adding that Michigan ranks 30th in the nation in per-capita income and 35th in college attainment.

"President Schlissel has been a strong advocate for greater state investment in direct-to-student need-based financial aid. It would lead to greater degree attainment, diminished student debt, growth in the Michigan economy and increased per-capita income," he said. "It would also allow students more freedom to decide where they wish to study in Michigan and encourage schools to compete for the best students, regardless of their family income."

Addressing other issues the group has raised, Fitzgerald said UM-Flint, UM-Dearborn and UM-Ann Arbor are "three distinct but aligned institutions."

"Each campus has its own unique mission and priorities — and makes decisions to meet individual campus needs," Fitzgerald said. "Those needs reflect the students they serve, the work they do, the people they hire, the markets in which they operate. Our three institutions ... each receive directly from the state their own appropriation, raise their own money through donors, set and collect their own tuition and fees, and then set their own priorities in how they will use those resources."

He added that tuition is lower for the Dearborn and Flint campuses to meet the needs of the local students and that the average net price for "for full-time, in-state beginning undergrads awarded grant or scholarship aid from the government or the university was lower at UM-Dearborn ($9,692) and UM-Flint ($10,906) than at UM-Ann Arbor ($16,408)."

Fitzgerald pointed to a recent study about growing student debt that showed, in 2017, average debt load was $25,712 for students at UM-Ann Arbor, $25,759 for students at UM-Dearborn and $33,258 for students at UM-Flint.

"Each campus sets its own priorities for diversity, equity and inclusion that fit its needs," he said. "Even then, there are some UM-Ann Arbor-based programs that are supported by UM-Ann Arbor campus funding that also benefit the other campuses."

As for the $85 million the coalition references for diversity, inclusion and equity, Fitzgerald said it "was the plan the Ann Arbor campus created for itself, and the budget, for the Ann Arbor campus, that has been set to accomplish its DEI goals," referring to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The One University coalition is calling for parity on the UM-Flint and Dearborn campuses with the main campus.

The One University coalition has been active on campus since last September but momentum for the group is growing.

This week, an editorial signed by 12 Democratic lawmakers in the Detroit Free Press said students in Dearborn and Flint are not getting fair treatment.

"The need at the U-M Dearborn and Flint campuses is urgent, and we call on the University of Michigan to serve the students who strive to make Michigan home to the leaders and best every day," the letter said. "The disparities on these campuses can be rectified, and Michigan will be a stronger state once they are. We look forward to working with the University of Michigan to make this a reality."

The platform for the group includes seven points for change. Besides adding campus medical services and extending the Go Blue Guarantee to UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint students, it includes:

•Equalizing the Legislature's per-student allocation for all campuses

•Extending Diversity, Equity and Inclusion funds to UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint since median household income of Ann Arbor students is $154,000 while it is $84,000 in Dearborn and $77,000 in Flint.

•Expanding study abroad scholarships for low-income and working UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint students.

•Offering easier intra-university transfers between the campuses.

•Providing pay parity for graduate students and lecturers, who make $7,000 to $10,000 less in Dearborn and Flint.